Published January 20. 2013 4:00AM
For those of us who do not belong to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, it should be none of our business that tribal officials don't seem to be at all rattled by criminal history or criminal charges.
For example, last week the tribe named as its new chief of staff - in charge of, among other things, its police department - a tribal member who has a substantial criminal history.
Antonio Beltran had some fairly recent run-ins with the law, in 1999 and 2000, including alleged drunken driving and speeding and some other motor vehicles charges related to two hit-and-run accidents in Preston.
But it was his earlier crimes, as a young man, that likely would disqualify him for a management role in most any gambling jurisdiction in the country.
Beltran was 17 when prosecutors said he was out on a joy ride with friends and told them he wanted to "kill a white boy." The victim, found walking alone down a dark street, was stabbed in the back and paralyzed.
Beltran later denied the racial remark and told a reporter in 1998 that he was "angry at the world, about my upbringing and poverty" but said only that night that he wanted to stab someone.
After being led from the California courtroom in which he was sentenced as an adult for the stabbing, according to press accounts, he told the victim, who was in a wheelchair: "You may be smiling … but at least I'm walking."
He also later denied having said that, although witnesses stood by their reporting.
Beltran was arrested some 10 years after the stabbing incident on aggravated assault charges following a confrontation in a bar.
Beltran's criminal history surfaced in Connecticut when he was elected to the Tribal Council in the late 1990s.
But tribal officials said then that, given their sovereignty, they had every right to elect whoever they wanted to run their government. They are free to forgive and forget.
Tribal Chairman Richard A. Hayward, even then a bit of a recluse, went out of his way to praise Beltran in a rare interview as respected and hard-working. Hayward said Mashantucket is a place where tribal members, many deprived earlier in life, could make new lives for themselves.
Tribal officials were right then. And they are well within their rights now to defend another councilor who recently came under a criminal cloud of his own.
Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler reportedly told members this month that the tribe will pay for the legal defense of Steven Thomas, the treasurer of the Tribal Council, who has been indicted on federal charges of stealing from the tribe. The allegations arose from a period of time before Thomas served on the council.
But while the tribe, like any family, is free to help and come to the defense of any member, this reaction is by no means any kind of legal extension of its sovereignty.
The federal government has clear and unambiguous jurisdiction on the Mashantucket reservation, and tribal officials are just as subject to prosecution as government or corporate leaders anywhere else in Connecticut.
I suspect, though, that if a board member of any major corporation here was indicted after a lengthy FBI investigation, the board would not likely rally around and pitch in for the accused member's defense.
What is worrisome about what can look like a casual treatment of criminal charges on the reservation is the movement by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to retreat from the state's obligation to police Connecticut's two casinos.
The compact that gives the state's two tribes the right to allow casino gambling on their reservations clearly calls for the state to have a substantial police presence at the two casinos and for the tribes to reimburse the state for what that costs.
It is hard to imagine how the governor can continue to explore the idea of withdrawing state police from the casinos, especially now that the tribal police department at Mashantucket is overseen by someone with a substantial criminal record.
Never mind that tribal police don't even have the right to arrest non-tribal members. They can only try to detain the bad guys and wait for state authorities to arrive.
Pequot tribal members have every right to decide who will run their government.
Connecticut residents, too, can elect their own leaders.
And in coming elections, they should pay attention to any of those leaders who choose to abandon police powers in the state's two biggest petri dishes for crime culture, where big crowds mix daily with lots of cash, gambling and free liquor.
This is the opinion of David Collins.