Those participating in the presentation of the Tunica-Biloxi/Paragon grant to the Justice Center project included (from left, back row) retired Avoyelles Parish Asst. District Attorney Mike Kelly, Tunica-Biloxi Tribal Judge/La. State Rep. Robert Johnson, 12th Judicial District Judge William “Billy” Bennett, Paragon General Manager Jody Madigan, District Attorney Charles Riddle, attorney Brandon Scott, attorney Benjamin James, Tunica-Biloxi Councilman Bobby Pierite Sr. (front row) paralegal Madison Fruge, attorney Emily Edwards Bertholl, Tunica-Biloxi Tribal Chairman Marshall Pierite, Norma Lemoine, 12th Judicial District Judge Kerry Spruill, Paragon Asst. General Manager/Tunica-Biloxi Tribal Vice-Chairman Marshall R. Sampson Sr., attorney Alissa Piazza-Tassin, Tunica-Biloxi Councilman/Chief of Police Harold Pierite Sr.
Tunica-Biloxi Tribe, Paragon Casino donate $150K to parish entities
Three parishwide public entities have received a donation from the Tunica-Biloxi Indian Tribe and its Paragon Casino Resort to aid in services to the residents of Avoyelles Parish.
The Tribal Council recently announced the award of three $50,000 grants, one each to the Avoyelles Police Jury, School Board and Justice Center effort.
“We thrive in Avoyelles Parish, and we appreciate the cooperation we receive from these important offices of parish government,” Tribal Chairman Marshall Pierite said.
“These grants will help fund programs that are needed to improve conditions for parish residents and help us all in the future,” he added.
The Police Jury will officially accept its $50,000 donation at its Sept. 11 meeting,
The jury will use the unexpected revenues to supplement its funds to provide operations and services that would otherwise have not been possible this budget year, the jury noted in a letter to the tribe.
The Police Jury letter said the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe has been a “godsend” to the parish and the jury looks forward to continuing the relationship between the parish and tribe.
The School Board has indicated it will use its grant to support its “Every Student Succeeds When Every Student Reads” summer reading program.
That program is designed to help the district meet its goals for academic achievement by improving the literacy skills of all students, but specifically those in grades K-2.
The third $50,000 grant supports the efforts to establish a Justice Center to house the 12th Judicial District courtrooms and court officials’ offices.
Tribe officials presented the check to judicial district officials this past Monday.
District Judge William J. Bennett called the grant vital to the planning for the proposed new center and praised the tribe for its past and present commitment to the parish.
“We are closer to seeing this project become a reality, thanks to the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe,” Bennett said.
“The Justice Center is necessary for the safety and comfort of the people of Avoyelles Parish and we cannot thank the Tribe enough for their support.”
“We look forward to the development of the new Justice Center facility,” Judge Kerry Spruill said. “We are extremely grateful for this donation and all that you do to serve our community.”
“We are continuously grateful for our relationship with the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe and excited for this opportunity to give back to the community,” Paragon General Manager Jody Madigan said.
“Paragon has deep roots in Avoyelles Parish and we are thrilled to be able to assist with this important parish project.”
Tribal Council Vice Chairman Marshall Ray Sampson said the donation will be used for research and to hire an architect to design the Justice Center.
Spruill pointed out that the parish needs larger courtrooms, conference rooms where attorneys and clients can meet, adequate bathrooms for the public and an area for inmates to wait during their court dates that is separated from the general public.
There is only one bathroom on the 3rd floor of the courthouse to serve everyone attending court -- including inmates. Inmates must wait in the same area as the general public during court dates. The two courtrooms are outdated and cramped.
NOT A ‘DISTRIBUTION’
Police Jury President Charles Jones expressed gratitude for the grant at the jury’s special meeting on Aug. 27. The check was supposed to be presented at that time but was delayed due to a scheduling conflict, he said.
“This is a donation from the tribe,” he said. “It is not part of the quarterly distribution” of profits required under the tribe’s gaming compact with the state.
The tribe has been unable to make those quarterly distributions to local governments because the casino has been operating at a net loss for the past two years.
For the first two decades of the casino’s existence, the tribe provided over $40 million to the local entities receiving a share of the quarterly distribution.
The state compact requires the tribe to distribute 6 percent of its gross profits from the gaming activity.
Since there have been no net profits from gaming, there has been no quarterly distribution under the state compact with the tribe.