A football autographed by Robert Griffin III ain't worth what it once was. But it might still cost a Utah tribal official her job.
Gari Pikyavit Lafferty, chairwoman of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, is facing impeachment over taking that memento and other gifts from the Washington Redskins as part of an alleged scheme to induce the tribe to support the NFL team's effort to save its name.
The Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah Tribal Council has officially accused Lafferty, the tribe's highest ranking elected official, of accepting freebies from the team and the Original Americans Foundation (OAF), the non-profit formed by owner Dan Snyder last year to oversee outreach with Indian tribes. At a hearing yesterday in Cedar City, Utah, the council alleged that Lafferty had received the RGIII football from OAF executive director Gary Edwards. Tribal codes entered into the record at the hearing indicate that officials are barred from accepting any gifts valued at more than $50 to prevent at least the appearance of a conflict of interest. Screen captures from eBay and sports memorabilia websites were used to show that the memorabilia exceeded that limit.
Lafferty is also accused of allowing the team to fund an all-expenses paid trip for her to Washington, D.C., to attend the Skins' Sept. 25, 2014 loss to the New York Giants, while not disclosing that perk to other tribal leaders. A photo of Lafferty on the field before the game with Redskins President Bruce Allen was among the evidence presented against her.
The gifts, the council wrote, "could be considered bribery."
After the trip, Lafferty supported a deal with OAF to provide at least two vans to the tribe, as the debate over whether to cooperate with Snyder's foundation raged throughout Indian Country.
The Paiute tribe is small—in an interview last fall, Lafferty estimated there were "around 900-plus members" divided up in five sub-tribes, called "bands"—and located in remote areas of Utah. But the tribe looms large in Snyder's life in recent years. Among its members is Phillip Gover, one of the five plaintiffs in Blackhorse v. Pro Football Inc., the lawsuit seeking to have Snyder's "Redskins" trademarks canceled by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. (Pro Football Inc. is the corporate name of the Washington Redskins.)
The trademarks case was filed in 2006. Arbiters for the USPTO ruled in June 2014 that the protections on those marks should indeed be invalidated. But Snyder has appealed that ruling, and has also sued Gover and his fellow plaintiffs personally in federal court.
According to the Paiute tribal charges, the gifts and trips Lafferty allegedly took from Snyder's foundation and team have shown a pattern of "[p]romoting personal gain" over the welfare of her constituents.
"Your actions in soliciting and accepting gifts from the Redskins for yourself and your family could reasonably be considered to be separate from or adverse to the best interests of the Tribe," read the charging documents, "particularly given the participation of a PITU Tribal member in the litigation against the continued use of the name 'Redskins' (and associated logo) by an NFL team." (Italics in the original.)
Gover, who now lives in Oklahoma, says it's not coincidental that OAF targeted the Paiutes for special attention. While Snyder's group was showering Lafferty with booty, Gover says, OAF was also buddying up to the leaders of the other tribes that his fellow plaintiffs in the trademark litigation belong to. Amanda Blackhorse, who has given the lawsuit her name and has been the face of the fight, is a Navajo; Snyder had an on-field ceremony for Navajo Code Talkers during a break in a nationally televised loss to the San Francisco 49ers in November 2013, and hosted Navajo President Ben Shelly in his box last season as his team got beat by the Arizona Cardinals. Those public displays notwithstanding, the Navajo Nation Council has voted against supporting the name "Redskins."
"They went after the tribes of those of us fighting this," Gover said. "I imagine that's to undermine our case. They think they can say, 'Hey, look: Your tribes took these gifts from us! They're not on your side! They're on our side!' It's so diabolical and underhanded, it just smells of Dan Snyder."
According to Nikki Borchardt, a Paiute member and attorney who attended yesterday's hearing, the tribal council indicated it would render its decision on sanctions against Lafferty "within 10 days."
Gover said he had nothing to do with the charges being brought against Lafferty, who he says is a first cousin. He said the most surprising portion of the evidence presented against her came in the minutes of a 2014 tribal council meeting, where Lafferty indicated that OAF's Edwards had said the foundation had a relationship with Pilot Flying J, the truck stop giant, and hinted at the possibilities of a "joint venture" between the tribe and that company.
Pilot Flying J, which in the the minutes of that council meeting was presented to Lafferty as a "partner" of Snyder's organization, was founded by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. The Paiutes, Gover says, have for years wanted to build a truck stop to bring in outsiders' revenues.
After the tribe accepted the vans and she made the trip to FedExField, he says, nothing came of the truck stop talks.
"I think Snyder/OAF was screwing with them by dangling the promise to get people to the table," says Gover. "All the cynical shit that was written about that foundation has turned out to be true, and this is one indication of that."