Former councilors charged with fraud

BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
04/30/2004 02:40 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - Three of four former Tribal Councilors who are charged with misusing tribal funds appeared before the tribe's district court April 16.

In March, tribal prosecutors filed criminal charges against Mary Flute Cooksey of Flute Springs, Stephanie Wickliffe-Shepherd of Mayes County and Don Crittenden of rural Hulbert accusing them of defrauding the Cherokee Nation and filing a fraudulent claim to pay Tulsa attorney Richard Toon $10,447 in tribal funds. Toon represented the former councilors when they challenged the results of last year's tribal election.

If convicted each of the three councilors face one-year of imprisonment or a fine of up to $5,000, or both fine and imprisonment for each charge.

Former tribal councilor Harold DeMoss is charged with conspiracy to

defraud the tribe. He was chairman of the Tribal Council's executive and finance committee at the time Toon was paid and approved and presented a check request for the $10,477 transaction in July 2003.

Documents show in June 2003 Crittenden, Cooksey and Shepherd signed a legal representation contract with Toon and agreed to reimburse him for "expenses incurred." The following month the Toon Law Firm was paid using tribal funds. Title 26, Section 102(A) of the tribe's codes prohibits the use of public funds to pay an individual's attorney fees to contest a tribal election.

Crittenden did not attend the April 16 hearing. District Judge John Cripps issued a continuance for him, Cooksey and Wickliffe-Shepherd until 2 p.m., May 21. Cooksey and Wickliffe-Shepherd tried to enter a not guilty plea but were not allowed to do so by Cripps because their attorney was not present.

DeMoss pled not guilty and informed the court he would represent himself. Cripps reminded DeMoss of the charge against him and outlined the penalties he is subject to if convicted, which include one-year of imprisonment or a fine of up to $5,000, or both fine and imprisonment.

The possible penalties did not deter DeMoss from representing himself at a court date also set for 2 p.m., May 21. He also chose to have his case heard before Judge Cripps at a bench trial rather than having it heard before a jury.

"I don't believe I did anything wrong, so I don't think I need counsel," he said.

The tribe's General Counsel, Julian Fite, also filed a civil suit in district court against Crittenden, Cooksey and Shepherd in an effort to recover the $10,447.

All four of the defendants ran for re-election in May 2003 but lost. After the election, Crittenden, Cooksey and Wickliffe-Shepherd filed suit against the tribe's Election Commission alleging irregularities in the election. The three asked the tribe's Judicial Appeals Tribunal to overturn the May election citing irregularities in the election process that the tribe's Election Commission failed to address. The court ruled 2-1 that sufficient evidence wasn't presented to warrant a new election.

Wickliffe-Shepherd said the tribe's accounting documents show that each of the three councilor's expended $3,482.37 of their own legal expense fund and that they filed the election appeal petition as "a current council representative."

She said the funds were not federal dollars, but general fund monies approved and passed in the 2003 fiscal year budget. She said the funds were established by resolution on May 1997 with legislation that states "an individual council member may engage legal counsel without approval of the council or deputy chief so long as the cost of such legal fees are limited to $5,000 per council member each Cherokee Nation budget year."

She said the tribe's comptroller approved the attorney contract with Toon, and Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Smith signed the check last July.

"Council members have used funds in this manner over the last eight years," Wickliffe-Shepherd said.

Regarding the signing of the Toon contract, Chief Smith said, "We respect the separation of powers and the role of the legislative branch, so we don't generally scrutinize their requests for payment. We didn't suspect these councilors would be expending tribal funds illegally on their own campaign and election challenges."

Cooksey said she agrees with Wickliffe-Shepherd and that the councilors had the right to use the funds because the funds were not federal money, but funds set aside for each councilor to use "as they saw fit with things and issues affecting them."

In August 2003, Fite gave Cooksey, Crittenden and Wickliffe-Shepherd 10 days to make restitution to the tribe or his office would "pursue further remedies" against them. No restitution was made and tribal prosecutors continued their investigation of the alleged misuse of public funds.
About the Author
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M.

He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life.
He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association.

Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. He was named interim executive editor on Dec. 8, 2015, by the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.
WILL-CHAVEZ@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life. He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association. Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. He was named interim executive editor on Dec. 8, 2015, by the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.

News

BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
06/28/2016 08:15 AM
WASHINGTON – National retailer Dollar General will have to go before a tribal court judge thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. On June 23, the Supreme Court announced it had deadlocked 4-4 in Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians vs. Dollar General, which raised the question of whether tribes have the authority to pursue civil litigation over the activities of non-Natives on tribal trust land. By virtue of the tie, the court upheld a ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that sided with the tribe. In 2003, a non-Native Dollar General manager allegedly sexually assaulted a 13-year-old Mississippi Choctaw boy who was working at the Dollar General store on the reservation through the tribe’s summer youth program. When the federal government declined to pursue criminal charges against the manager or company, the victim’s parents sued both the manager and the retailer in tribal court. Despite signing a lease that required it to give the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians’ court system legal authority over it, Dollar General balked, claimed the tribe did not have jurisdiction and pursued litigation that was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in December 2015. More than 100 tribes and Indigenous organizations filed amicus briefs with the Supreme Court in support of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, with many noting the potential implications for Indian Country’s domestic violence cases if the court sided with Dollar General. According to a recent study released by the National Institute of Justice, a supermajority of violent crimes against Native Americans – both male and female – are committed by non-Native assailants. “Today’s decision reaffirms tribal sovereignty and the inherent civil authority of tribal courts to protect our citizens when non-Indians assault them,” Jana Walker, a senior attorney at the Indian Law Resource Center, said. “This is critical considering that a National Institute of Justice research report issued last month found that more than four in five Native women have experienced violence in their lifetimes, and more than one in two have experienced sexual violence.” With the tie, the possibility remains for the Supreme Court to revisit the issue of tribal jurisdiction in the future, as the decision does not create a binding nationwide precedent. “It is a reminder that more work is needed to educate lawyers, judges, and lawmakers about tribal sovereignty and the authority of tribal courts,” Walker said. The case will now go back to tribal court. The family of the victim is seeking $2.5 million in damages. In a statement released June 24, Principal Chief Bill John Baker praised the Supreme Court’s decision. “As tribal sovereign governments, we applaud the Supreme Court’s preservation of our right to protect tribal citizens on tribal land,” he said. “The Cherokee Nation is taking critical steps to strengthen its ability to arrest, convict and prosecute people who commit crime in our jurisdiction and against our citizens. “We also continue to strengthen our civil code to allow us to increase our exercise of civil jurisdiction over non-Indian people and companies who commit wrongs within the Cherokee Nation. This will better protect all of our citizens, including our most vulnerable, like the elderly, women, and children.”
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
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BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
06/27/2016 12:28 PM
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BY STAFF REPORTS
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BY STAFF REPORTS
06/24/2016 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation honored Korean War veterans Jack Merle Gardner, George Edward Dewayne Johnston, Ralph George Grass and Eva D. Rider Tallon with the Medal of Patriotism at the June 13 Tribal Council meeting. Cpl. Gardner, 74, was born April 16, 1942, in Claremore and joined the Marine Corps in 1959. Gardner attended basic training in San Diego and was sent to Camp Butler in Okinawa, Japan, a Marines supply depot. He received weapons maintenance training while in Okinawa and maintained the base’s weapons. He also played football on its team. A colonel saw him playing and had Gardner transferred to Quantico, Virginia. He was part of the traveling football team that played football at Air Force, Army and Navy bases across the country. When the Cuban Missile Crisis began, football was suspended and all Marines were on standby. Gardner received an honorable discharge in 1963. He received medals and ribbons for his service, including the Good Conduct Medal. “Serving the country helped me buy my home and get through college with the GI Bill,” Gardner said. “I appreciate the Cherokee Nation for this recognition award. I also thank the tribe for their quick response when a tumor was found on the lower part of my spine. I thank God they were on the ball.” Staff Sgt. Johnston, 85, was born May 4, 1931, in Kenwood and entered the U.S. Air Force in 1952. Johnston attended basic training in San Antonio and radio school in Biloxi, Mississippi. While waiting for his top-secret clearance, Johnston travelled to Burma, London, Germany and Amsterdam before being stationed in Scotland as a radio operator. He was responsible for copying all Russian aircraft Morse Code transmissions. Johnston spent 20 months overseas copying Russian transmissions. He returned to the United States and received an honorable discharge in 1956. Johnston received ribbons and medals for his service, including the National Defense Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal. Petty Officer 3rd Class Grass, 79, was born March 7, 1937, in Locust Grove and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1955. Grass attended basic training in San Diego and was stationed on the USS McCoy Reynolds, where he trained servicemen from New Zealand. After the USS McCoy, Reynolds was turned over to the New Zealand Navy, deployed on the USS Picking to the South China Sea, where he served as a boiler operator helper. During his service, Grass made one trip around the world. He received an honorable discharge in 1959 and earned ribbons and medals for his service. Cpl. Rider Tallon, 86, was born June 13, 1930, in Bunch and joined the U.S. Army in 1951. She attended basic training at Fort Lee in Virginia and surgical technician school at Brooke Medical Center in San Antonio. Rider Tallon was then stationed at Fort Lawton in Washington, where she served as a company clerk. While at Fort Lawton, she received “Soldier of the Week” honors and attended the University of Seattle. She was then deployed to the 8168th Army Hospital Unit in Yokohama, Japan, where she served as the editor of the battalion newspaper and attended Red Cross activities for wounded soldiers from the Korean War. Rider Tallon received an honorable discharge in 1954 and earned ribbons and medals for her service. To nominate a veteran who is a CN citizen, call 918-772-4166.
BY STAFF REPORTS
06/24/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation donated $75,000 to organizations that ensure school children get snacks and school supplies when they return to school this fall. In northeastern Oklahoma at least 20 organizations participate in backpack programs that send backpacks home with students who are in need of everything from school supplies to nutritious weekend snacks. The tribe donated the funds from its donations and charitable contributions budget. Tribal Councilors individually delivered the checks totaling $75,200 to the churches, schools and organizations in their areas. “We have a responsibility to our children, especially those in need, to ensure they have access to basic and essential items when they are away from structured activities like school and church,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Networking with these partners, organizations that have similar values and a mission to help kids, enables us all to do more, and that is critical if we hope to raise healthy and happy children in northeast Oklahoma. If we can address any insecurity a child has at home, whether it’s food or clothing or supplies, then we are helping build a better tomorrow.” The programs serve 3,643 students, with half of those students being CN citizens. Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd said the tribe is able to help more families when developing healthy partnerships with organizations inside the 14-county jurisdiction. “By partnering with churches, schools and organizations inside the communities, we are able to make the greatest impact with our tribal dollars,” Byrd said. “These organizations know the needs of our young people in their respective communities, and I am proud that the Cherokee Nation can contribute to meeting those needs.” Organizations receiving funds are in Adair, Cherokee, Craig, Delaware, Mayes, Muskogee, Nowata, Rogers, Sequoyah and Washington counties. New Life Church in Stilwell received $15,000 to help. At the beginning of every school year, the church hosts a cookout and backpack giveaway night for parents and students in Adair County. The church also partners with four rural Adair County schools and uses the donation to provide nutritious weekend snacks to students every week during the school year. “We are so thankful to be able to partner with the Cherokee Nation and help students and parents in our area with necessary school supplies and nutritious snacks on the weekend,” said New Life Church Pastor Max Ford. “The tribe’s generosity is a godsend for our community, and we are more than happy to help pass that blessing on to those in need.” <strong>Receiving Donations</strong> Organization, County, Award New Life Church, Adair, $15,040 Hulbert Public Schools, Cherokee, $9,388.32 Tahlequah Public Schools, Cherokee, $3,689.94 Craig County Salvation Army, Craig, $1,121.49 Okay Public Schools, Delaware, $1,961.74 Choteau-Mazie Public Schools, Mayes, $781.04 First United Methodist Church Locust Grove, Mayes, $710.95 Boulevard Christian Church, Muskogee, $2,350 Chandler Road Church of Christ, Muskogee, $555.45 Eastern Heights Baptist Church, Muskogee, $1,516.82 First United Methodist Church Muskogee, Muskogee, $1,602.27 Grace Ministries Inc., Muskogee, $341.82 Warner Public Schools, Muskogee, $3,845.45 Boys & Girls Club of Nowata, Nowata, $6,118.14 Oologah United Methodist Church, Rogers, $791.58 Rogers County Salvation Army, Rogers, $14,248.42 Hillside Pentecostal Church, Sequoyah, $1,388.64 Lee’s Chapel Assembly of God, Sequoyah, $2,307.27 The BOD Church, Sequoyah, $1,132.27 Agape Mission of Bartlesville Inc., Washington, $6,308.39