Former councilors charged with fraud

BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
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 pubic 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.
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 pubic 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.

News

BY STAFF REPORTS
10/21/2014 01:06 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Three Cherokee communities will host Halloween-related events before and during Halloween. In Marble City, citizens are hosting the “Trail of Terror” to provide a safe but scary fun for those who dare to walk the trail. This is the ninth year for the outdoor event, and it will be held one mile south of Marble City from 7:30 p.m. to 11:55 p.m. on Oct. 24-25. People should follow signs to the Noisey Ranch. Admission is $3 per person. Because the trail is outdoors, no flip-flops are allowed to prevent injuries. It will take 15 to 20 minutes to walk through the trail, which is situated in 10 acres of woods. This year, the eighth grade class at Marble City School is doing a special scene. A volunteer work crew from Haskell Indian Nations University is also assisting with the trail. This year’s big feature is a maze and a psychedelic tunnel, said coordinator Tamara Hibbard. “All the workers are volunteers. We put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into getting it ready. We just do it for the enjoyment of the people. We never break even with admission,” she said. “Any money that we take goes back for expenses like fuel for the generator, fog juice, fake blood, props and costumes.” A free “Daisy Trail” will be available for small children that will include carnival games and non-scary stuff. For more information, call Hibbard at 918-315-2583. After trick or treating on Halloween, families are invited to the Rocky Mountain Cherokee Community Organization’s “Haunted Trail and Kiddie Carnival” from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the organization’s community building. All activities are free except for the concession stand. Cherokee storyteller Sequoyah Guess will be the guest storyteller. The trail and storytelling will be held behind the community building, weather permitting. Games and concession stand will be held inside. The trail will not be suitable for younger children. Carnival-type games will be set up and suitable for anyone. The Rocky Mountain Community is located off of 100 Hwy. in Adair County, about seven miles west of Stilwell. For more information, call Vicki McLemore at 918-506-0487. The Brushy Cherokee Action Association will host a “Haunted House and Trail” and a hayride from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 29-31 at the Brushy Community Center building. Events will last until 11:30 p.m. on Oct. 31. Cherokee Nation staff members Stephanie Buckskin and Mary Owl, along with Brushy volunteers, are building and installing the “Haunted House and Trail.” BCAAA welcomes all residents of Brushy and surrounding communities to the Halloween events. Admission is $2 per person and $10 per family. Concessions will be available. The Brushy Community Center building is located seven miles north of Sallisaw on Hwy 59 on E. 1010 Road. For more information call Gary Bolin at 918-315-7797 or Newton Spangler at 918-575-5998.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
10/21/2014 08:05 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee youth from across northeastern Oklahoma were sworn in as Tribal Youth Councilors on Oct. 13 by Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Justice Darrell Dowty. The 17 youth raised their hands and took their oaths of office during the Tribal Council meeting. The TYC will serve a one-year term and gather monthly for a meeting and activities. Activities could consist of a guest speaker, a cultural tour/activity, leadership training or community service projects. “I just think it’s fantastic that we have some up-and-coming leaders. This Youth Council is growing our leaders for the future. I’m very appreciative of the ones who agreed to serve and the staff who are helping them,” Tribal Councilor Tina Glory Jordan said. Tribal Youth Councilor from Kansas, Oklahoma Taylor Armbrister, 15, said he wants to serve on the council because he knows it will offer opportunities for him to better himself along with learning more about his Cherokee culture and heritage. “I just saw an opportunity to better myself. I look forward to doing some community service. It’s always a joy to help people in need,” he said. Along with Armbrister, the Tribal Youth Councilors are Ja-li-si Pittman, 20, of Tahlequah; Haylee Caviness, 17, of Tahlequah; Jacob Chavez, 17, of Tahlequah; Haley Teehee, 17, of Tahlequah; Kaley Teehee, 17, of Tahlequah; Morgan Mouse, 16, of Welling; Ashton Shelley, 17, of Park Hill; Summer Eubanks, 17, of Stilwell; Elizabeth Hummingbird, 17, of Stilwell; Sarah Pilcher, 16, of Westville; Cierra Fields, 15, of Fort Gibson; Blake Henson, 16, of Fort Gibson; Bradley Fields, 15, of Locust Grove; Ashlee Fox, 17, of Bartlesville; Abigail Shepherd, 15, of Ochelata; and Cassidy Henderson, 15, of Welch. The TYC was established in 1989 to provide leadership opportunities for Cherokee youth and to educate youth about the tribal government, culture, history and language. “It’s a wonderful opportunity and a true privilege to serve on the Youth Council,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. During the meeting, Baker presented a framed proclamation to former Tribal Youth Councilor and current TYC Coordinator Lisa Trice-Turtle and other former Tribal Youth Councilors. The proclamation honors the 25th anniversary of the council, which officially formed Oct. 14, 1989. Baker read the proclamation, which stated the program has kept “the Cherokee Nation in the forefront of youth programs.” “The Tribal Youth Council strives to promote and protect Cherokee lifeways through community service projects and leadership opportunities, it has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of youth. Now therefore, I, Bill John Baker, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, do hereby proclaim Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, as celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Youth Council,” Baker read. Trice-Turtle thanked current and past Tribal Councilors for supporting the TYC. “Some of their children and relatives are now on the Tribal Youth Council or have served on the Tribal Youth Council. We have over 161 former Tribal Youth Council members who are in professional employment for the Cherokee Nation as well as the private sector. I just want to say thank you for supporting our tribal youth programs and keep supporting us,” she said. Hummingbird said she wanted to join the council to be more involved with her nation. “I’m proud of my culture and just love to have this opportunity to learn more about my culture,” she said. She said wants to learn how the Tribal Council operates and what the council does during meetings. A Keys High School senior, Shelley said she believes it’s important for youth to be involved in their nation and to support it because the youth will someday inherit the CN. “I just want to learn everything I possibly can from our elders and just everyone involved with the council,” she said. “I believe this experience will help me go further in life in general, not just in college, but everything.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
10/20/2014 11:50 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Tahlequah Public Schools Foundation is hosting its 2014 Glow Golf Fall Event on Oct. 30 to raise funds for TPS. The event is a four-member team golf scramble with teams teeing off at dusk on the city’s course located at 2200 W. Golf Course Road. Registration for begins at 6 p.m. Sponsorship levels are diamond at $2,500; platinum at $1,000; gold at $500; team at $300 and media at $200. Most packages include four T-shirts, glow golf materials, a flashlight, dinner and drinks. According to its website, the foundation’s mission is to encourage the local community to support the TPS educational system, secure contributions and distribute funds and equipment for the students’ educational benefit. The website states the TPSF was organized in 1989 by concerned citizens who believe Tahlequah’s quality of life and economic development are directly related to the quality of its educational system. It is an independent, nonprofit, charitable organization established to assist the school in improving the quality of education in the district. The foundation is separate from TPS but works closely with the school system and administration. For more information about the golf scramble, call 918-456-3761 or 918-456-1300. Or email <a href="mailto: healthfirstchiropractic@yahoo.com">healthfirstchiropractic@yahoo.com</a>.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
10/17/2014 12:00 PM
WASHINGTON – On Sept. 30, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell convened the fourth meeting of the White House Council on Native American Affairs, formed by executive order of President Obama, to work more collaboratively and effectively with American Indian and Alaska Native leaders to help build and strengthen their communities. Obama Cabinet secretaries and senior officials participated in discussions focused on several core objectives including reforming the Bureau of Indian Education, promoting sustainable tribal economic development, and supporting sustainable management of Native lands, environments and natural resources. The discussion also included potential additional areas of focus based on consultation with tribal leaders. The meeting follows the president’s June visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota where he announced new initiatives to expand educational and economic opportunities, which the council oversees and promotes, and Jewell’s 20th visit to Indian Country, where she joined Navajo Nation leaders to announce a $554 million settlement of the tribe’s trust accounting and management lawsuit. Since 2009, this administration has resolved more than 80 tribal trust settlements with federal-recognized tribes, providing more than $2.5 billion in settlements, in addition to the $3.4 billion Cobell settlement of individual Indian trust claims. “The landmark Cobell Settlement and resolution of more than 80 other individual tribal trust management lawsuits under President Obama has launched a new chapter in federal trust relations with tribes, reflecting this administration’s continued commitment to strengthening our government-to-government relationship with tribal leaders,” Jewell said. “Today’s meeting of the council is another step toward building upon that relationship by working to better coordinate the resources of the federal government so that tribal nations can more easily cut through red tape and access the tools they need to advance their economic and social goals.” The council’s subgroup on Indian education highlighted progress to date on the Blueprint for Reform, which was announced via secretarial order in June. The Blueprint is to restructure and redesign the BIE, transforming the agency from solely a provider of education into a capacity-builder and service-provider to tribes that will operate schools. The redesign will help ensure students attending BIE-funded schools receive a high quality education delivered by tribal governments. The subgroup on infrastructure and economic development reported on its efforts to increase tribal sovereignty, remove regulatory barriers to development and support Native entrepreneurs. The Sept. 30 meeting also included updates from the energy subgroup regarding coordination of federal agency efforts to promote energy and energy infrastructure development in Indian Country. The climate change subgroup discussed its efforts to work with tribal leaders to prioritize the major climate change challenges facing Indian Country and help tribal communities combat and minimize the adverse effects.
BY STAFF REPORTS
10/17/2014 10:00 AM
TEMPE, Ariz. – What does the future hold for Native peoples in an era defined by climate change? How does indigenous knowledge work within the realm of sustainability science? How do these two worlds collide and ultimately benefit native peoples and the earth? Indigenous scholars, sustainability scientists and tribal leaders were expected to gather from Oct. 6-7 to discuss and debate indigenous sustainability and environmental issues. The Arizona State University “Conference on Indigenous Sustainability: Implications for the Future of Indigenous Peoples and Native Nations” offers an unprecedented opportunity to address some of the most pressing issues facing Indigenous people and the earth today. Sustainability is a concept that is engrained in the practices of indigenous people throughout the world who have traditionally practiced living in harmony with natural forces, but Native peoples today are also among the most susceptible to environmental degradation. “Experts agree that indigenous peoples are among the most vulnerable populations in the world to climate change. Most indigenous peoples live in areas that are being heavily impacted by climate change and forms of development including timber harvesting and mining that are quite damaging to the natural environment,” Rebecca Tsosie, ASU Regent’s professor in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, said. Conference participants will discuss indigenous knowledge and how it is expressed in different parts of the world, said Donald Fixico, ASU distinguished foundation professor of history in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “We’ll look at how indigenous knowledge has enabled Native peoples to thrive in a comparative discourse with western thinking and western scientists, while both intellectual approaches face similar sustainability issues that involve preserving and renewing natural resources,” Fixico said. Conference participants will discuss and debate topics such as “The Future of Sustainability, Educating the Next Generation;” “Sustaining Indigenous Knowledge and Culture;” “Entrepreneurship and Economic Sustainability;” “Sustaining Inherent Tribal Self-Governance;” and “Tribal Energy and the Environment.” “We look forward to engaging in this historic dialog at ASU while we look toward the future of sustainability studies and educating our next generation of leaders who will serve as stewards of the planet,” said Gary Dirks, ASU professor of practice and director of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and ASU LightWorks. The conference is sponsored by the ASU President’s Office of American Indian Initiatives and supported by the ASU Office of the Provost. For more information, go to https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/ or email annabell.bowen@asu.edu or Justin.hongeva@asu.edu.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
10/16/2014 02:45 PM
HARDIN, Mont. (AP) – A Montana town that once offered to take in suspected terrorists from Guantanamo Bay out of desperation to fill an empty, $27 million jail has finally started to fill its cells with American Indian inmates from across the Northern Plains. The Two Rivers Regional Detention Facility in Hardin was built in 2007 on hopes it would boost an economically depressed area of southeast Montana bordering the Crow Indian Reservation. But it suffered a series of failures after Montana prison officials said the jail wouldn’t suit their needs. Hardin officials in 2009 sought unsuccessfully to take in detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They later partnered with a California con man, Michael Hilton, who promised to turn the jail into a paramilitary training site until his criminal background was revealed by The Associated Press and other news organizations. Now local officials said they at last have found a legitimate and reliable operator for the 464-bed jail in Emerald Correctional Management, a Louisiana-based private corrections company. Warden Ken Keller says Two Rivers has taken in almost 60 inmates in recent weeks from American Indian reservations in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. Most are serving time for alcohol or drug crimes and must go through an intensive rehabilitation program in Hardin, Keller said. As Keller showed an Associated Press reporter around the jail this week, guards wearing patches with Emerald's green logo patrolled the halls. Inmates clothed in orange were locked into 8- and 24-bed dorm rooms watching television, playing board games and sleeping as they waited for their next therapy session to begin. Others were seen working in the kitchen and being processed in the jail's intake area. “Everybody always said it wasn’t going to happen,” Keller said. “It’s happening.” Yet the latest turn for Two Rivers has raised a new concern for at least one tribal leader: Huge distances separate Hardin from the reservations and will make it difficult for family of inmates to visit. After the jail’s prior setbacks, Emerald representatives cast a wide net in the search for inmates. They delivered what Hardin had long sought: A contract with a government agency, in this case the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, which should provide a steady flow of inmates potentially for years to come. The federal agency is paying about $70 per inmate per day, and it anticipates placing 80 to 100 inmates at Hardin at any given time, agency spokeswoman Nedra Darling said. For now, all the revenue the jail brings in will go to Emerald and to pay off the $27 million in bonds that paid for its construction. Eventually, Hardin stands to receive 50-cents per inmate, per day, said Jon Matovich, who chairs Hardin’s economic development authority, which owns the jail. Matovich and other town officials said that doesn’t account for the 50 jobs created so far with the jail’s belated opening. That could reach 150 workers if the jail ever reaches full capacity, according to Emerald. “All the Gitmo and Michael Hilton stuff was kind of a black eye in the way those things turned out, but it’s all good now,” Matovich said. Keller said Emerald is talking with law enforcement across the region as it looks to fill the jail’s remaining space. The drug and alcohol treatment provided by Emerald is unavailable in BIA-managed jails, Darling said, and inmates are sent to Hardin only with the agreement of tribal leadership. However, Blackfeet Nation Chairman Harry Barnes said federal officials gave him only three days’ notice before relocating inmates from an outdated jail on his northwestern Montana reservation to Hardin, 380 miles away. “They should have consulted us beforehand,” Barnes said. “They showed up on a Friday and said they were going to tear the jail down Monday. ...We were only in a position to listen, but we had some concerns with people going all the way to Hardin.” Barnes said that could present a hardship for family of inmates who can’t afford the journey. The BIA is working to provide video conferencing or other means for distant family members to communicate with inmates, Darling said. Regarding consultations with tribes, she said agency representatives spoke with Barnes and other member of the Blackfeet tribal council before moving inmates to Hardin. Darling said the agency would listen to any concerns raised by the tribe and follow up as needed. Beyond its agreement with the BIA, Emerald has a separate deal with North Dakota’s Three Affiliated Tribes. Drug and alcohol addiction has spiked in recent years on the reservation near Newtown, North Dakota, fueled by the easy money being generated by an oil boom in the surrounding Bakken region. “We are in the middle of a heroin and meth epidemic. It’s killing everybody, including our kids,” said Bruce Gillette, who directs a drug treatment program for the Three Affiliated Tribes. “We’ve sent people to other treatment facilities but there are no locked doors so they can literally walk out of get kicked out ... From where I’m at, only God could have sent those guys from Hardin to me.”