Source: Casino property escrow still open

Saturday 21st December 2019

Escrow is still open for the 26.48 acre Ridgecrest property planned for use as a Timbisha Shoshone casino, according to a confidential source. The Ridgecrest City Council in December 2018 voted to terminate the escrow on the property, but according to the source this was not done. The source told the Daily Independent Friday that escrow on the property is still open because of ongoing disagreements between the various parties to the sale. The source added that a deposit of $111,100 is still being held. The DI is conducting an ongoing investigation into this story.

The source is not part of the tribe or the casino developer.

The casino project has been the topic of controversy for several years. The Ridgecrest City Council in June 2016 passed a municipal services agreement (later amended) with the tribe regarding annual payments to the city and other issues. The land sale was approved in September 2016. Even after these approvals, the casino project remained controversial and attracted the vocal opposition of a largely faith-based segment of the population.

On Dec. 20, 2018 City Manager Ron Strand sent a letter to Global Investment Enterprise Ridgecrest, LLC (GIER) requesting that the Oct. 20, 2016 purchase and sale agreement and joint escrow instructions between the Successor Agency to the Ridgecrest Redevelopment Agency (as seller) and GIER (as buyer) be terminated.

Other parties, meanwhile, fought against cancelling the escrow agreement and demanded the land sale.

Grish Akopian on behalf of GIER send a letter dated Dec. 28, 2018 to the title company objecting to the cancellation of escrow, citing authority pursuant to the escrow general provisions attached to the escrow acceptance letter dated Aug. 16, 2017.

China Lake Properties, the entity which transferred the property to the city in 2000, demanded the sale of the property to GIER. A letter dated June 5, 2019 to Ridgecrest City Manager Ron Strand from the Menke Law Firm (representing CLP) stated that CLP wanted to exercise its option to have the property sold to GIER. CLP demanded the sale of the property for $5.5 million - the same purchase price that was negotiated with the city in 2016.

Specifically, the letter states that according to an agreement between the CLP and the Ridgecrest Redevelopment Agency, after a certain date (2010) CLP has the right to identify a buyer for the land and CLP is identifying GIER as their chosen buyer for the property and demanding the sale.

According to the source, the deal is on hold and nothing will happen to the property "until all the parties agree."

Complicating the issue is the fact the US Department of the Interior agreed to acquire the proposed casino site in trust for the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, but the tribe did not get the news until roughly 8 months after the approval was granted. The news was delivered in a letter to former Timbisha Shoshone Tribal Chair George Gholson dated Sep. 27, 2018, and signed by Tara Sweeney, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs. The letter was released to Gholson June 3, 2019.

It is unclear why the letter from September 2018 was released to Gholson in June 2019 but it may have something to do with a lawsuit filed by the tribe against DOI Secretary David Bernhardt during May, 2019. What was clear, however, was that the the tribe technically got the go-ahead to proceed with the project prior to the termination of the land sale escrow, but were not informed of the approval until months after council had terminated the escrow in December 2018.

The casino project remains the topic of closed-session legal actions regarding the city.

As of press time Friday, neither City Manager Ron Strand and Mayor Peggy Breeden had not responded to the Daily Independent's requests for comment.

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