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Pinoleville – End Of An Era

“Jim, You are one of the men that I most admire. You are a fellow Christian and we will always have that in common. I probably waited too long to bring this deal to you. I only brought it to you because I believe it is one of the last remaining GOOD Indian gaming deals left in California.”

— Email dated 8/26/2008 from John Tang to Jim Winner

Who are these fellows and what is this last GOOD deal?

The late Jim Winner, was the man who made a fortune as the inventor of The Club (auto-theft prevention device.) He settled a claim from another alleged inventor for a reported $10.5 million but that just goes to show how much money was in that thing. He passed away in 2010 when his SUV crossed the center line and collided head-on with a vehicle containing two other very old men.

John Tang is the CEO of the Buena Vista Rancheria Band of Me-Wuk Indians. Chief among his questionable achievements is the tribe’s as-yet-unbuilt Amador County Casino. He is also a former development partner of the Pinoleville Pomo Nation. It is in this capacity that he finds himself one of many defendants in an “Unlimited Civil Action – Over $25,000” recently filed in Superior Court of the State of California, County of Mendocino.

The Plaintiff is JW (as in James Winner) Gaming Development, LLC. The bulk of the other defendants, I am thrilled to announce, is comprised of the Tribal Council of Pinoleville Pomo Nation, Michael Canales, and a few employees of the tribe.

All information not previously known to me is gathered from the filed documents of JW Gaming, LLC v The Whole Entire Crooked Bunch at Pinoleville (not the actual name).

The complaint is six-fold. The first two claims are the classic “Breach of Contract” and “Fraud & Deceit.” The next four are what one may consider top-shelf as they are “RICO Conduct/Control/Income/& Conspiracy.”

Yes, the village idiots on Pinoleville Drive finally angered someone with enough money to bring them down. Back in 2010, I opined in these very pages of the AVA that RICO Charges were absolutely provable against not only these tribal officials, but also a few at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. We’ll leave that for another, happier day and focus on a brief summary of the current action.


The defendants, as listed, can be tricky to comprehend. Simply, Leona Williams has rebuilt a hijacked tribe and stacked that nation’s government with her close family members. Over the course of the last 15 years or so, they have formed various entities for the purpose of accepting and spending millions of dollars.

They have the expected amount of grant-funded programs, which should get the tribe blacklisted by the EPA, HUD and other key funding entities once these charges are easily proven. They attempted to operate a marijuana grow which was handily deleted by local officials.

Additionally, they have undertaken to participate in off-Reservation development projects with generally abominable outcomes. They ruined the historic Hopland Inn. They failed to operate a sushi spot/nightclub north of Ukiah.

Most, if not all, of these activities were spearheaded by their non-Native business partner Michael Canales. Canales is a developer from Escondido who appeared directly after the Bureau of Indian Affairs helped Leona to disenroll most local members of the tribe (including yours truly) and to ratify a new and impossibly non-democratic constitution.

In the current filing, multiple entities are named, including: Pinoleville Pomo Nation; Pinoleville Gaming Commission; Pinoleville Business Board; and Pinoleville Economic Development, LLC.

For the sake of clarity, these are all some combination of: Tribal Chairperson Leona Williams, her daughter Vice-Chairperson Angela James, and the other stooge council-members, her grandchildren Tribal Secretary Cassandra Steele and Treasurer Jason Edward Running Bear Steele.

Oh, did I forget Tribal Administrator Lenora Steele? So hard to keep track of this family. It seems the only way to not be an important member of the council or administrative team is to be a male relative like Robert James or ‘ABC,’ who already basically has permanent residence on the Mendocino County Booking pages.

Leona has a sister, Nancy. She ran against Leona for the Chair position some years back and lost her seat at the table for good it appears. It’s no surprise that Nancy’s not taking a beating here as the first name in the documents is that of Attorney Gregory Narvaez, Nancy’s son.

Yes, even this litigation is a family affair.

Breach of Contract – As I understand it, the fundamental Breach has to do with the failure to meet the commitments to JW Gaming, LLC. JWG was promised that they would be participating in the development of a casino for the relatively paltry amount of $5 million. As Jim Winner passed away years ago, it has been on his lieutenants and the widow Winner to essentially be lied to and tricked for the past eight years. The funds have not resulted in any casino. There is no apparent pathway for the tribe to repay the investment short of plundering future programs and projects.

Fraud & Deceit – This is where it gets interesting. One of the early requirements of JWG, prior to ponying up the $5 million, was evidence that Michael Canales had also invested $5 million into the deal. It appears that Team Pinoleville mobilized its fiscal team, no strangers to funny business, and faked the evidence of such an investment.

An audit of the numbers backing up that fraudulent statement (Sham 2008 Canales Note) will prove that the accounting is largely fictional. It will be no surprise to learn that Pinoleville’s accountant Michelle Campbell’s previous employment landed her on multi-year probation for fiscal shenanigans at Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians.

RICO Conduct – The Principal Fraudsters (Williams, James, Tang, Michael Canales as well as his daughter, Melissa) “conducted an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity that did cause injury to" JW Gaming. The enterprise is, essentially, an association formed by the Principal Fraudsters and multiple Financial Fixers (a Fresno CPA Firm, additional tribal council and staffers, more relatives of Michael Canales) to “convert the resources of third parties (like the Company) and the resources of the tribe to their personal benefit while using the tribal governmental umbrella to shield the proceeds of their enterprise from detection by state and federal taxing authorities.”

RICO Control – In theory, all tribal encumbrances and commitments are made by the Chair in the name of the General Membership. In practice, the constitution of the tribe limits greatly the ability of members to oversee these efforts. What you’ve got is a mother-daughter team with a rubber stamp of their own creation (literally as the remaining council members are mostly their own progeny) being led by the nose down ridiculous path after path, driven by greed and without transparency.

Gaming Commissions are required by tribes attempting to form compacts with the States in order to form casinos. Vice-Chair Angela James heads the Pinoleville Gaming Commission. This has, at the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest. Angela is also the ‘Tax Member’ (sort of the primary agent) for Pinoleville Economic Development, LLC. She denies any knowledge of this LLC in a deposition, although her signature is filed with the Secretary of State in the LLC’s Operating Agreement. Duh!

Actually, Angela’s deposition is the most lively part of the reading. She’s the definition of a hostile deponent. She’s obviously lying and rude while she’s doing it. I had forgotten how much I can’t stand these people.

In any event, that’s the basic structure of the Racketeering Control.

RICO Income – Would you be shocked to learn that the tribe has paid Angela’s personal home rent to the tune of nearly $200,000 over the years? It appears that her fiancée is also a tribal consultant. Well, this is strange, he also chairs the Ukiah Unified School District’s Title VII Parent Committee. There’s a very nice letter of support signed by him and written on UUSD stationery for Pinoleville’s recent Department of Education proposal. Somebody forgot to explain ‘arm’s length’ to these folks.

The RICO Income portion of the filing is also referred to as the Tribal Looting Scheme. I like the sound of that. Leona and her daughter are the signatories on many of the various banking accounts and instruments utilized in this looting scheme. Oops!

RICO Conspiracy – Wire fraud – check! Bank fraud – check! All of these fraudsters and fixers did OBVIOUSLY conspire to defraud at least JW Gaming. Checks have been cut in all of their names and signed by Leona and Angela.

The big laugh was that they refer to a Canales payment as a “Success Fee.” Are you kidding? All that he succeeded in doing was helping Tang to get JW Gaming on the hook which has resulted in this cluster-f.

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t going to enjoy this. These people have caused much harm to people dear to me. These people are the reason that I, my mother, and my daughters have no tribal standing. I hope that they do find themselves on the hook for $21,000,000.

The current tribal members have no justification to be upset after watching this happen for the last 15 years. They can, as my grandmother used to say, “Go jump in the lake.”

I hope that they aren’t able to play the poor Indian card. As a matter of fact, I feel that it is very important to make an example of these women. They are more greedy than they are stupid and that is saying a lot.

Maybe if JW Gaming’s leadership have the hearts of Christians, they can take some of their (likely uncollectible) judgment and help us to hire the attorneys that we need to sue the Bureau of Indian Affairs for rolling out the red carpet of corruption for these activities and participants.

This is a deal that I wouldn’t have offered to my worst enemy.


  1. Eric Sunswheat March 16, 2018

    Cat has 9 lives

  2. Natalie March 21, 2018

    Thank you for this piece. I have been following the world of tribal corruption have found that many tribes are held hostage by corrupt leaders….to uneducated to take a stand where we have the power. On the tribal floor in session. I’m glad the courts too have remedies for invested a. This seems like the only way to put back a ship is when it is completely broken. Forget about repairing it with a few smart tribal members fed up. Suing these idiots are the only way. Sad. But wow what a great piece. Your mom is one lucky lady and I’m so proud the fight still goes on. Blessings.

  3. Eric Sunswheat September 4, 2018

    Non-Native business partner Michael Canales, a member of the Pinoleville Pomo Nation, for income tax avoidance purposes, has purportedly fled to Mexico.

    He is no longer attending civil court RICO proceedings, because of a small problem of credibility subterfuge, in falsely making a claim of a $5 million loan from his Canales Group LLC to Pinoleville Economic Development LLC, to induce now suing duped entity investor, to loan out $5.3 million with tribal obligation to repay, while the funds were drained and privatized by select consultant tribal members.

    Good show County of Mendocino officials, for endorsing the casino compact, and making the effective lobbying trip to the State Capitol, to bolster economic corruption in Mendocino County.

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