BARSTOW - Someone wants people to think that a Barstow casino project has fallen apart.

The Desert Dispatch and other media outlets were recently sent internal correspondence from an unknown source showing that the deal between the Los Coyotes Band of Cahullia and Cupeno Indians and developer BarWest, LLC to build an off-reservation casino in Barstow near Lenwood had been called off. Representatives from both BarWest and the Los Coyotes said that although the internal memos are accurate, both parties are in negotiations, and the project is still moving forward.

BarWest spokesman Tom Shields declined to comment about the internal memos between the tribe and BarWest, and said he's not sure who leaked the documents.

"The leaking of private correspondence between the Tribe and our business associates is just another underhanded attempt by those who are trying to derail this project. ... We look forward to meeting with the Governor to discuss how we can make this project a reality," Shields said in a statement representing the Los Coyotes and BarWest on Tuesday.

The Los Coyotes tribe had partnered with the Big Lagoon Rancheria Tribe and BarWest to develop a Barstow casino several years ago. The project was approved by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the agreements necessary for development stalled in the legislature and expired in September.

In a letter dated Sept. 28 to BarWest president Michael J. Malik, Sr., Katherine Siva Saubel, chairwoman of the Los Coyotes tribe, discontinued the tribe's relationship with BarWest.

"The tribe is in the process of starting over and will attempt to open discussions with the Governor's office to obtain a new gaming compact. As part of this new beginning and at least for the time being, the tribe will disengage from LCB BarWest LLC," the letter stated.

The letter also mentioned the tribe's desire to negotiate the purchase of the proposed casino site, 47 acres near Lenwood, from BarWest. The developer currently owns the land but must transfer it to the tribe as part of the federal land-into-trust process before the project can move forward.

Malik responded to the letter stating that he was "puzzled" by the tribe's decision and said the land was not for sale.

"Our willingness to transfer that property to the Tribe is part and parcel of having a relationship as the Tribe's Developer and Manager. The use of that property is also contingent on agreements with the Big Lagoon Rancheria, which still holds the key to Barstow," he wrote in response.

The letter also stated that BarWest had spent millions on the Barstow project and blamed employees of the investment bank BarronHaus, for trying to "disrupt" BarWest's relationship with the tribe and "sell the project to other developers."

Los Coyotes contracted with BarronHaus in May 27, 2003 to perform financing for a gaming facility in California. On Oct. 14, the tribe severed all ties with BarronHaus, according to a representative from the tribe.

On June 21, 2007, BarWest sued BarronHaus in California Central District Court to stop the investment bank's affiliation with the casino project, said BarWest spokesman Tom Shields. Employees of BarronHaus did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Shane Chapparosa, spokesman for the tribe, said that although BarronHaus employee Gretchen Belli was once an assistant to tribal council member Kevin Siva, the firm is no longer affiliated with the project. Siva, who had served as a spokesman for the tribe and the project and had spoken about the project at Barstow City Council meetings, is no longer a member of the tribal council, Chapparosa said.

Citing "internal matters of the tribe" Chapparosa declined to provide details, but said that the tribe did end its contract with BarWest after the tribe's compact with the governor expired in early September 2007. He said the tribe plans to continue to work with BarWest to bring a casino to Barstow.

"We are putting everything back into place - the arrangements with the developer BarWest, the City of Barstow and the governor," Chapparosa said.

He said that the Los Coyotes may continue to collaborate with the Big Lagoon Rancheria tribe on the Barstow project, but this is uncertain as Big Lagoon is proceeding with casino development plans on their Humboldt county reservation.

"That would be up to Virgil (Moorehead, Big Lagoon's chairman), as he has his own agenda," Chapparosa said.

Big Lagoon Rancheria Tribal spokesman Jason Barnett said that Big Lagoon recently sent a letter to the governor to begin negotiations to build a casino on their Humboldt County reservation, but may continue with the Barstow project.

"As Chairman Moorehead said, `If Barstow is not in play, the tribe will consider it's options back in Humbolt county'," Barnett said.

He said that despite the Humboldt development, the tribe has not given up on building in Barstow.

"Barstow is still in play because we think and the state thought that it is the best location for the tribes and the city," he said.

Barnett said that he couldn't comment about the relationship between BarWest and the Los Coyotes, but said that the Big Lagoon Rancheria tribe is committed to working with both parties on the Barstow project.

Barnett said that all three parties are working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to put the land for the proposed Barstow casino into federal trust, a neccesary step before the project can move forward.

Contact the writer: (760) 256-4126 or jason_smith@link.freedom.com