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Judge calls Indian `tribe' bogus, orders it to pay damages

Salt Lake City_A federal judge has ordered a $63,000 civil judgment against four people who claim to be chiefs of an American Indian tribe in eastern Utah.

The men, who organized at a fast-food restaurant and say they have hundreds of tribal members, refuse to recognize federal or state laws, have issued their own drivers' licenses and filed countless lawsuits against Utah authorities for ignoring their purported sovereignty.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Stephen P. Friot ordered the men to stop pretending to be American Indians and pay Uintah County damages. He called their tribe a "complete sham."

The group calls itself the Wampanoag Nation, borrowing from the name of Mashpee Wampanoag Nation, a Massachusetts tribe that greeted the Pilgrims in 1620.

Officials with the federally recognized tribe told The Associated Press the Utah men were obvious impostors.

The tribe, which has strict rules of lineage dating to the 19th century, often deals with phony membership claims, said Gayle Andrews, a spokeswoman for the Mashpee Wampanoag Nation.

"A lot of white people are like, `I'm Wampanoag,'" Andrews said. "But you can't just Google yourself into membership. It's not doable."

Members of the Utah group have challenged traffic stops and other encounters with authorities, filing a host of lawsuits and unenforceable debt judgments against prosecutors, law enforcement officers and judges.

In one of its most audacious claims, the group recorded a $250 million debt against Uintah County Attorney JoAnn Stringham with a state agency.

Uintah County, in turn, filed a counterclaim alleging racketeering and fraud.

Friot ruled that the four men and their organizations owe money to the county for damages caused by excessive litigation.

The group's leader is Dale Stevens, 69, who lives without phone service in an unincorporated part of Uintah County. He claims 13 acres in the county are sovereign. Efforts to reach Stevens were unsuccessful Monday.

"We're concerned about the judgment against the people of our tribe," said Martin Campbell, 56, who claims to be the law enforcement minister for the Wampanoag Nation of Utah.

Campbell maintained he had some Indian blood but said none of the leaders or members ever offered proof of Indian ancestry. The tribe has been unsuccessful in getting federal recognition, he said.

All four men represented themselves at trial and insisted their actions were legal. Friot, a federal judge in Oklahoma, traveled to Utah to hear the case because federal judges here have been sued by Stevens.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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