July 6th, 2013
Akimel O’odham Youth Collective
On Wednesday July 3rd, 2013 the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) Council held their first regular meeting of the month. The investigation into the Pangea Corporation’s Landowner initiative was on the agenda, specifically the exclusion of signatures deemed by a GRIC police investigation to be fraudulently gained. The Landowner initiative’s purpose, if passed by GRIC Council, would have rescinded the February 2012 GRIC vote that resulted in a “No Build” victory regarding the proposed South Mountain Loop 202 Freeway extension. The Landowner initiative would then force another GRIC vote, this time with the wording on the GRIC ballot having just two options for the freeway: either Yes or No, with no option for the No Build alternative.
In May 2013, a special GRIC council meeting was called to hear the findings of the GRIC police investigation. At this meeting, the GRIC police department revealed that evidence of fraud and deception had been found in the methods that Pangea used to gather signatures. This is a direct violation of the Gila River Indian Community Code, which states that “a person commits obtaining a signature by deception if, with intent to defraud, he obtains the signature of another person to a written instrument by knowingly misrepresenting or omitting any fact material to the instrument or transaction.” As long as the Pangea Corporation in collaboration with the GRIC Landowners had been gathering signatures, there had been anecdotal evidence within Gila River that Pangea employees were going door to door and telling GRIC members that they were gathering signatures for a “No Freeway” petition.
Nathaniel Percharo, a spokesperson for the GRIC Landowners, admitted to knowing that there were types of fraud going on while gathering the signatures. After investigating those allegations of fraud and deception, at the May 2013 council meeting, tribal police stated that there was evidence of fraud. When they contacted individuals whose name was on the petition, some claimed they never signed it. When the petition first went through the tribal elections program they excluded 750 of the 1509 signatures, nearly two-thirds of the signatures on the entire petition. Instead of dropping the initiative then, GRIC council moved to have the initiative go back through the verification process with the Tribal Elections Program to see if there were enough valid signatures remaining to move forward with the initiative. Then the initiative would then come to the first regular meeting of July to hear the findings.
On the day of the July 3 council meeting, there was no sign of Pangea’s founders or any landowners, besides Nathaniel Percharo and his wife. This was very unusual, as in the past on days when Pangea had an item on the council agenda, the council chambers would be full of landowners that the Pangea Corporation bused in on rented luxury buses. Pangea spokespersons, Joseph Perez and Christi Perez, were also not present at this council meeting, on the day the fate of their corporation’s initiative would be decided.
Before the presenters could speak, council member Jennifer Allison made two motions. The first was to accept the findings of the tribal police and to exclude 176 more signatures from Pangea’s petition, which are believed to be forged. Of the 1509 signatures turned in by the Pangea Corporation and the GRIC Landowners group, more than half were found to be gained by using fraud and or deception. With the first 750 signatures excluded and then an additional 176 excluded all together 926 were found to be invalid. This put the number of valid signatures under the 643 needed to move forward.
The second motion from council resulted in no longer proceeding with the Landowner initiative to force another vote on the issue of the Loop 202 being placed on Gila River tribal lands. This means the February 2012 No Build vote still stands as the community’s stance. There will be no on-reservation alignment for the proposed South Mountain Loop 202 Freeway extension.
It remains to be seen if Pangea employees and members of the GRIC Landowners group will face criminal penalties, as is written in Title 5, Chapter 6, Section 5.602 (B) of the the Gila River Indian Community Code, which states that “the penalty for obtaining a signature by deception shall be imprisonment for a period not to exceed 180 days, or a fine not to exceed $500.00, or both.” If criminal penalties are assessed for each individual count of deception, Percharo and Perez could owe damages to the Gila River Indian Community of over $400,000 ($500 for each of the roughly 800 signatures removed) or jail time of up to 144,000 days, or 394 years.
-Akimel O’odham Youth Collective & Gila River Against Loop 202