U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot, though, says the three, as well as fellow member James W. Burbank, of Vernal, are not entitled to the status of American Indians. The judge said they used that phony tribal membership in an attempt to intimidate and extort Uintah County public servants.
And the Wampanoag Nation, Tribe of Grayhead, Wolf Band - the association's formal name - is a "complete sham," the judge declared in a ruling handed down last week at the conclusion of a trial in Salt Lake City.
In his ruling, Friot threw out millions of dollars in judgments purportedly awarded to the group's members by the so-called Western Arbitration Council, which he said was working in concert with the ''tribe.'' The phony judgments included a $250 million award against Uintah County Attorney JoAnn Stringham and a $3.5 million award against Deputy Sheriff John Laursen.
Friot also ordered the defendants to pay attorneys' fees and $63,000 in damages to Uintah County. Also liable for the damages are the Wampanoag Nation, Grayhead Tribe, Wolf Band; member Curtis Richmond of California; and the Order of White Light, a Duchesne County corporation that does business as the Western Arbitration Council.
According to court records, the Wampanoag Nation was formed in an Arby's restaurant in Provo in April 2003. Members of the group, which has no relationship to the historical Wampanoag Nation of Massachusetts, claimed immunity from local, state and federal laws.
They then began filing claims against prosecutors, law enforcement officers and judges. Stevens alleged he won the $250 million award against Stringham because she prosecuted him for driving with a tribal license plate, rather than a state-issued one.
Burbank filed suit in U.S. District Court in 2004 seeking payment of $375 million in damages from Uintah County for citing him for having an unregistered vehicle. The county filed a counterclaim against Burbank and the other defendants asking for a ruling that the tribe is a fake.
U.S. District Judge John E. Conway ruled in 2006 that the Vernal group was not a legitimate tribe and threw out Burbank's suit. The counterclaims proceeded to trial.
Friot, an Oklahoma federal judge, and Conway, who sits in New Mexico, were brought in to hear the case because the group had either sued the Utah federal judges or challenged their assignment to the case.
The defendants do not have listed phone numbers and could not be reached for comment. Burbank, Stevens, Campbell and Smith defended themselves at trial and insisted their actions were legal. Stevens has previously said the tribe is legitimate.
How the scam worked
Officials of the Western Arbitration Council, a body set up by members of the fake tribe, sent notices to Uintah County officials announcing a claim had been filed against them. The notices alleged the recipient had broken a contract or violated someone's civil rights.
The recipients were falsely informed that they earlier agreed to submit to binding arbitration and had just days to respond or lose by default. After the time period expired, WAC granted an award to the tribe, which then filed a lien against the target of the scam.
The tribe apparently collected no money but did damage credit records.