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Trial Court Finds In Favor of CRIT in Water Wheel Case; Orders Eviction, Damages of Nearly $2 Million For Lease Violation Along Colorado River
PARKER, Arizona (June 17, 2008) — The Colorado River Indian Tribes’ Trial Court last week ordered that Water Wheel Camp Recreation Area, Incorporated and Robert Johnson, its owner and operator, can be evicted from the property by CRIT.
In addition, the Trial Court ordered Water Wheel and Johnson to pay nearly $2 million in damages and reimbursement of CRIT’s legal fees for violating the terms of his lease, not vacating the property when the lease expired, not submitting lease payments to CRIT and not paying CRIT revenues generated by the property as stipulated in the lease.
The Court found that CRIT was correct in arguing that Water Wheel and Johnson had not paid sufficient — and for the past few years, any — rent for the Water Wheel property since 2000. It also ruled in CRIT’s favor on a number of other lease term violations.
And, the Court agreed with CRIT that Water Wheel and Johnson’s actions have caused the Tribes to suffer economically.
The order reinforces CRIT’s authority to evict Water Wheel and Johnson, as well as recovering the rent owed by Water Wheel and Johnson, legal fees and compensatory damages.
“We’re pleased with the Trial Court’s ruling in this case and will continue with our efforts to evict Water Wheel and Mr. Johnson and recover the revenues that rightly belong to our people,” said Tribal Chairman Daniel Eddy, Jr.
“Mr. Johnson and several of his cohorts have made it clear that they do not respect Tribal sovereignty and wish to make a land grab on CRIT’s properties in California. We will not tolerate, nor would any local, county, state, federal or tribal government tolerate, such actions by Mr. Johnson or anyone else that would come to their lands and deprive the owners of what is rightfully theirs.
“This ruling is gratifying for CRIT because it once again shows that we will fight — successfully — to protect the property and rights of our people against those who would seek economic gain at our expense. And we will not stand for any enterprise – tribal or non-tribal – that seeks to deny our people the revenues that pay for our schools, elder services and vital health programs,” Eddy, Jr. said.
Johnson twice tried to get the Arizona Federal District Court to intervene and remove the case from Tribal Court. Both times the Federal Court refused to do so and instead held that Water Wheel and Johnson must exhaust their remedies in the Tribal Courts (both Trial and Court of Appeals) before coming to federal court.
Eddy said that the action taken against Johnson and his Water Wheel company do not carry over to the subtenants of the Water Wheel property who comply with their lease agreements.
The vast majority of individuals and businesses on the CRIT Reservation abide by Tribal laws, and CRIT continues to enjoy good working relationships with them. Those in compliance with Tribal law will not face eviction or other action, and CRIT wants to continue to work with those tenants in the future.
“However, CRIT intends to take action against all non-compliant tenants — both commercial and individual — on the California portion of the Reservation,” Eddy Jr. said. “We owe it to the people of CRIT to make sure that we protect our lands and our economic future from those who refuse to honor their agreements with the Tribes, and we will aggressively work in the future to remedy those situations.”