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Friday, June 22, 2007

Family Behind Foxwoods Loses Hold in Tribe

MASHANTUCKET PEQUOT INDIAN RESERVATION, Conn. — Things are different now for the Hayward family, who took this tiny tribal nation on a dizzying odyssey two decades ago from virtual dust to startling wealth and power.

With Haywards at the helm, the Pequots built one of the most profitable casinos in the world here, a teal and lavender fortress known as Foxwoods that looms like Xanadu above the rustic woods.

Within a few years, the tribe traded in a life of pig farming and maple sugaring for one of lavish homes, expensive cars and private school educations.

But 15 years after Foxwoods opened, the family that brought the Pequots back from the brink, that repopulated an almost empty reservation and rebuilt its economic soul, says the tribe has cast it aside in recent years.

Richard A. Hayward, a former pipefitter who led the tribe for 23 years, has rarely been seen on the reservation since being deposed as the Pequot leader several years ago.

The rest of the 70-member Hayward clan say they, too, have been shunned by the Pequot family that now controls the tribal government.

After years of infighting, the Haywards say they have been demoted, fired, pushed out of jobs. Several say it has gotten so bad that they are thinking of moving away from land they fought to reclaim.

“We gave them everything on a platter,” said Theresa H. Bell, 55, a Hayward who resigned in September from running the Pequot museum, a Hayward dream financed by casino profits. “And they just slapped us in the face.”

Other members of the 800-person tribe see it differently.

They say the Haywards withdrew from tribal affairs after their leader, Mr. Hayward, fell from power several years ago. They say it was the Haywards who had wielded power unfairly.

John L. Holder, who helped rebuild the tribe and is now executive assistant to the tribal chairman, said Mr. Hayward became rude and undemocratic as chairman.

“He ridiculed people to the point of tears," Mr. Holder said.

Despite the internal tribal feuding, Foxwoods remains a major economic force in Connecticut, with 10,000 employees and annual revenues of more than $1 billion. Its success has served as a model, a tonic, for impoverished tribes across the country who followed the Pequots’ lead, embraced gambling and made their own fortunes.

But the Haywards say that that success is increasingly threatened by the dissension and by the inability of their successors, the Sebastian family, to adapt to a crowded gambling market.

They point to a slip in revenues from slot machines, the workhorses of megacasinos like Foxwoods. Slot revenues fell last year after more than a decade of skyrocketing growth, in part because of competition from Mohegan Sun, a rival Indian casino five miles west.

Current tribal leaders described the Pequots’ finances as sound and said any disagreements were routine. “We are no different than other large families in terms of diverse opinions,” the tribal chairman, Michael J. Thomas, wrote in an e-mail message. He added, “There is no pattern of any disagreement that runs along family or ethnic lines.”

Mr. Holder said that while the Haywards had some legitimate concerns, many stemmed from bitterness and misunderstanding. “The tribe is not doomed,” he said.

The Haywards, however, are undeniably disillusioned. One Hayward sister walks the reservation in a sweatshirt advertising Foxwoods’ gambling rival, the Mohegan Sun. Five of Mr. Hayward’s eight siblings spoke out about their disagreements this spring with a reporter, rare moments of openness for a private people who seldom speak to the press.

The Haywards described the tribe as deeply troubled. They say they worry, for example, that too many young Pequots, their own children included, are increasingly idle and drawn to drugs because they are given lots of money at an early age.

“It’s going to break up,” Loretta Libby, 76, who has spent most of her life on the reservation, said of her tribe. “We are breaking up.”

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