Jamul Casino Cemetery ‘Destruction’ Linked to Catholic Church Fraud, Sex-Abuse Claims

Concerns that the expansion of the Jamul Casino near San Diego, Calif. could be disturbing a nearby historic cemetery have taken a fresh twist.

: Jamul Indian Village, Jamul Casino, Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego
The Jamul Casino, above, opened in 2016, but it has always been dogged by controversy. Critics say current expansion plans could harm the cemetery that was deeded to the tribe by the Catholic Diocese of San Diego in 2017. (Image: JIV)

A lawsuit accuses the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego of fraud. It also claims the diocese transferred the cemetery to tribal casino operator the Jamul Indian Village (JIV) in 2017 as part of a wider scheme to avoid paying compensation for historic child sex-abuse claims.

The suit claims the diocese moved land and property worth more than $450 million to dummy companies to keep it out of the reach of the victims of pedophile priests.

The complaint was filed last month on behalf of victims by the Zalkin law firm.

The diocese admitted earlier this year it was facing “staggering legal costs” from hundreds of sex-abuse lawsuits and could be forced to seek bankruptcy.

The lawsuit also alleges that the diocese may have transferred the cemetery to the tribe in an “attempt to avoid liability for desecration of remains and funerary objects interred” there.

Controversial Casino

In 2016, JIV opened its $360 million casino near the burial ground. At the time that the diocese transferred the land, JIV was facing lawsuits from other tribal members in relation to the impact of the casino’s construction on the cemetery.

But diocese spokesperson Kevin Eckery told CBS 8 this week that the Church gave the land to JIV simply because it was the right thing to do.

“We did the right thing in turning over native American burial area essentially to the native American tribe that’s already taking care of the property,” he said, adding that the Church knew nothing about the casino’s expansion.

Hard Life

Up until the 1970s, tribal members lived in basic homes without electricity or plumbing on the cemetery itself.

In 1975, JIV was granted federal recognition as an official band of Kumeyaay Indians. This allowed the tribe to acquire tribal land of its own so they could, eventually, build the casino.

But the Jamal Casino was controversial from the word go and has been fiercely opposed by local non-tribal residents, as well as some tribal members.

to make way for the casino, the tribe had to completely move out of the village. In 2007,  three non-tribal residents of the village who opposed the casino were forcefully evicted.

This week, Glenn Ravell, president of local residents’ group the Jamul Action Committee (JAC), told CBS 8 the tribe’s plan to add a new event center, 16-story hotel tower, and a six-story parking structure to the casino will damage the cemetery.

The contractor is currently boring 120 soil nails, those are horizontal nails that go 35 feet west into an area that will certainly encroach on funeral objects and may encroach on people buried there,” Ravell said. 

“It’s the JIV who, amongst any of us in San Diego County who might be sympathetic to the sacredness of this burial ground, you might expect it to be other Native Americans. And yet that doesn’t seem to matter,” he added.

Ravell’s organization has been chided by a federal judge for legally harassing JIV. In court filings, JAC has called the tribe a “half-blood Indian community,” that is “not a historic tribe with inherent sovereign authority.”

These claims have been dismissed.

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