CHEROKEE, N.C. (AP) — A tribal council in North Carolina has voted to remove its chief for only the second time since the early 1800s.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council found Principal Chief Patrick Lambert guilty on eight of 12 articles of impeachment on Thursday, the Asheville Citizen-Times (http://avlne.ws/2qh7556) reported.
The articles of impeachment approved on a 9-3 vote of the tribal council included allegations that Lambert had used his office for personal gain.
Lambert was accused of signing a contract with Harrah's Cherokee Casino to have the casino rent rooms from a hotel he owned. He also was accused of signing contracts without approval of the tribal council as well as improper hiring practices, including hiring an attorney for his personal benefit.
More than a dozen supporters of Lambert marched outside the tribal chambers after the vote to remove him.
He was elected principal chief of the 14,000-member tribe in 2015 with more than 70 percent of the vote. He had called the impeachment effort a "witch hunt."
"What we just saw today was nine people," he said. "How many people in this crowd support me? I think those nine overruled 71 percent of this tribe."
But Lambert, an attorney who served as executive director of the Tribal Gaming Commission for 22 years, said he would respect the decision.
"I'm not angry about the impeachment," he said. "We need to stop fighting."
Special prosecutor Robert Saunooke said Lambert cherry-picked the tribal laws he followed.
"There are no exceptions to laws," Saunooke said.
Lambert and his attorney, Scott Jones, said the allegations were not impeachable offenses.
"There is no evidence that he committed impeachable offenses," Jones said in his closing argument. "He's done the best of his ability to provide services and protect the charter.
Vice Chief Richard Sneed has taken over as principal chief.
The Eastern Band of the Cherokee has been led by 27 chiefs since the early 1800s, and the council voted to oust just one principal chief.
A unanimous tribal council removed Jonathan "Ed" Taylor in 1995, on allegations he solicited bribes and had tribal employees work on his homes and cars while being paid by the tribe.
Information from: The Asheville Citizen-Times, http://www.citizen-times.com