- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The Narragansett Indian Tribe has been subpoenaed as part of a criminal investigation, according to a federal appeals court decision unsealed Tuesday, but the ruling didn’t specify who or what the federal grand jury is looking into or what records were sought.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision says the case is under seal.

Tribal lawyer William Devereaux said he wanted to respect the secrecy of grand jury proceedings and could not discuss the details. When asked if the matter is ongoing, Devereaux said he’s not the one to answer that, and referred questions to prosecutors.

Jim Martin, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha, said he can’t comment on matters before a grand jury.

The appeals court decision concerned a subpoena delivered in October 2012 to the tribe’s historic preservation office. The office oversees “historic preservation, Indian graves’ protection and religious freedom and other relevant cultural matters,” according to the tribe’s website.

The appeals court found the tribe doesn’t have to comply with the subpoena because the grand jury that issued it was discharged, but it also found that sovereign immunity does not shield the tribe.

“Tribal sovereign immunity provides no refuge from the subpoena power of a federal grand jury,” the court wrote.

The appeals court also said the tribe complied with a different grand jury subpoena in September 2013. Again, the court gave few details other than to say the tribe initially resisted it, then ultimately produced the requested records. Devereaux said the two subpoenas sought “pretty much” the same thing.

The impoverished tribe received federal recognition in 1983 and has been plagued by a series of setbacks and legal woes in past years. Most recently, a tribal housing official pleaded guilty in April 2013 to embezzling federal housing funds.

In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court limited the tribe’s attempt to get the federal government to place into trust 31 acres it owns in Charlestown. State officials feared the tribe would build a casino or a tax-free zone. In 2006, voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed the tribe to build a casino.

And in 2003, the tribe opened up a tax-free smoke shop on its land. State police raided it, and a violent confrontation ensued. The appeals court later ruled the shop was operating illegally.