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 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.
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.

News

BY STAFF REPORTS
03/26/2015 04:00 PM
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BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
03/25/2015 02:00 PM
WELLING, Okla. – A non-Cherokee couple that recently tried to partake in a new master-apprentice Cherokee language course offered by the tribe’s Cultural and Community Outreach is saying they were asked to leave the course after three sessions. Doug and Judy Cotter of Welling tried to participate in the program in February after receiving a call from a participant. Doug said the pilot program pays three Cherokee speakers to interact with four students, so he said there was plenty of room in the classroom for him and his wife. “I received a call from one of the participants that knew we were interested in the Master-Apprentice Program. They stated they would like for us to come sit in just as another example of people that could learn the language because he knew we had been studying it several years over here at NSU (Northeastern State University),” Doug said. “We were tickled to death and jumped at the chance.” However, after three sessions, Doug said CCO Director Rob Daugherty called them into his office and told them they could no longer attend classes. Doug added that he and Judy never got a straight answer as to why they couldn’t attend anymore. “He (Daugherty) said ‘when my students start complaining I have to do something. This is for people who are being paid to be here. It’s for participants only, and you guys just can’t be here,’” Doug said. He said he could not imagine that he and his wife somehow disrupted the classes they attended because mainly they just sat and listened to the Cherokee speakers. The program aims to teach Cherokee Nation citizens to become second-language Cherokee speakers so that they can go into their respective communities and teach others in an effort to revitalize the language, Daugherty said. Citizens will meet eight hours per day on weekdays through this fall, according to the program. “It’s a very demanding schedule,” Daugherty said. “As CCO’s director, when it was brought to my attention by other participants that Mr. and Mrs. Cotter were attending classes regularly and not merely observing, nor were they Cherokee Nation citizens, or a member of any federally-recognized tribe that I know of, I simply explained to the couple that our program is for Cherokee Nation citizens, and we simply did not have the space, nor funding to allow them to be participants.” Daugherty said the class is taught in a small office space and participants are paid stipends. Occasionally there are visitors who observe a class, and the Cotters were allowed to observe by one of the instructors. Doug said he went in strictly as a volunteer and he and his wife did not expect to get paid. “You have to be a member of the Cherokee Nation to even be considered for payment, so I didn’t expect to get paid,” he said. “I just think it would be a privilege to get to participate.” He said he was even willing to teach the language for two years after completing the program, which is required of all students enrolled in the program. “We welcome sharing our Cherokee language, and there are other online and community Cherokee language courses that are free and open to the public that the Cotters can utilize,” Daugherty said. “Moving forward, in our application for this program, we require participants be Cherokee Nation citizens, apply, be accepted and sign a contract with CCO, in an effort to avoid any public confusion.” Doug said at first he was angry because he was invited to partake in the program and then was told he couldn’t. “I didn’t understand. You’re volunteering, and you’re not causing any problems. Why would they not want someone to learn the language? In my opinion, the more people that learn it, the better. If the language is in dire straits, and we all know it is, the more people that can learn it and share it and spread it and teach it, the better off you’re going to be,” he said.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
03/25/2015 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Election Commission, candidates and representatives of candidates drew for ballot order during a March 24 special meeting after the EC ruled on candidate eligibility a day earlier. Candidates, their respective representatives and volunteers drew from a jar containing numbered chips that determined the order in which candidates would appear on the June 27 general election ballot. This year, 36 candidates are vying for eight Tribal Council seats as well as the principal chief and deputy chief positions. Those elected take office on Aug. 14. For the principal chief seat, candidate Will Fourkiller, a representative in the state House, received the first spot. Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden drew the second ballot spot for Principal Chief Bill John Baker. Former CN Community Services Group Leader Charlie Soap drew the third spot, while former Principal Chief Chad Smith will be fourth on the ballot. For the deputy chief seat, Tribal Councilor Lee Keener drew the first spot followed by incumbent S. Joe Crittenden for the second position. Smith, Tribal Councilor Julia Coates’ representative, drew the third spot. Coates has appealed to the tribe’s Supreme Court an EC decision that states she is not eligible to run for the deputy chief seat because she did not meet residency requirements. However, the EC still drew her ballot placement in the chance the court rules in her favor. If the court rules against Coates, her name would be removed from the ballot. For the Dist. 1 Tribal Council seat, a representative drew the first spot for Rex Jordan and candidate Ryan Sierra drew the second spot. For Dist. 3, Brandon Girty got the first spot, which was drawn by his daughter. Incumbent David Walkingstick’s representative drew the second spot. Kathy Kilpatrick drew the third spot, while Brian Berry’s representative drew the forth spot. Larry Pritchett drew the last spot. For Dist. 6, Natalie Fullbright’s representative drew the first spot for her, while Bryan Warner drew the second position. B. Keith McCoy got the third slot, and Ron Goff drew the fourth. For Dist. 8, Corey Bunch drew the first spot, while a representative for Shawn Crittenden drew the second. For Dist. 12, incumbent Dick Lay drew the first spot and his opponent Dora Smith Patzkowski got the second. For Dist. 13, a representative drew the first spot for former Tribal Councilor Buel Anglen, while another representative drew the second spot for Kenneth Holloway. For Dist. 14, a representative for Keith Austin, a former Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board member, drew the first spot, while William “Bill” Pearson drew the second position. For the No. 1 At-Large seat, Wanda Hatfield drew the first spot, while Tommy Jones drew the second. Pamela Fox got the third spot, while Betsy Swimmer drew the fourth. Benjamin McKee drew the fifth spot, and Trey Brown drew the sixth. Deborah Reed got the seventh spot, while Linda Leaf-Bolin got the eighth. Former CN Supreme Court Justice Darell Matlock drew for the ninth spot, and Shane Jett got the last position on the ballot. After drawing for ballot positioning, the EC also drew for watcher names that were provided by candidates for some voting precincts. More than 40 names were drawn. Two names, if available for that precinct location, were drawn as well as an alternate, if possible. The EC also drew several watchers for the four days of in-person absentee voting in Tahlequah. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/OurGovernment/Commissions/ElectionCommission.aspx" target="_blank">http://www.cherokee.org/OurGovernment/Commissions/ElectionCommission.aspx</a> or call 918-458-5899.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
03/25/2015 10:00 AM
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BY STAFF REPORTS
03/24/2015 02:00 PM
WASHINGTON – In keeping with President Obama’s commitment to supporting Indian families and building resilient, stable and thriving tribal communities, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn announced March 18 that the Bureau of Indian Affairs has published a proposed rule to govern the implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 by state courts and child welfare agencies. The proposed rule also includes changes to current regulations that govern notice to state agencies under ICWA. “The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ proposed rule clarifies and strengthens implementation of the act’s requirements in Indian child custody proceedings to ensure that Indian families and tribal communities do not face the unwarranted removal of their youngest and most vulnerable members,” Washburn said. “I want to thank all those who attended listening sessions and provided comments and recommendations for our updated guidelines. Their contributions helped inform this proposed rule, which seeks to protect Indian children and families. We look forward to receiving more comments and feedback throughout the rulemaking process.” The Department will be conducting tribal consultations and public meetings on the proposed rule through May 2015 to facilitate input and comment on the proposed rule. Tribal consultations are open only to representatives of federally recognized Indian tribes. Public meetings are open to everyone. A public meeting is scheduled for 1-4 p.m., Thursday, May 15 at the Tulsa Marriott Southern Hills, 1902 E. 71st Street. The assistant secretary’s announcement marks the second major action the BIA has taken this year to promote implementation of ICWA. On Feb. 24, Washburn announced the issuance of revised guidelines for state courts and agencies in Indian child custody proceedings to support the full implementation and purpose of ICWA–the first such update since the guidelines were issued over 35 years ago. Protecting Indian children reflects the highest ideals of the federal government’s trust responsibility to Indian tribes, and the revised guidelines and regulations are part of this administration’s broader approach to ensuring compliance with ICWA. The proposed regulations will be published in the Federal Register and can be found at <a href="http://www.indianaffairs.gov/WhoWeAre/BIA/OIS/HumanServices/IndianChildWelfareAct/index.htm" target="_blank">http://www.indianaffairs.gov/WhoWeAre/BIA/OIS/HumanServices/IndianChildWelfareAct/index.htm</a>. Comments can be submitted via any of the following methods: by e-mail to <a href="mailto: comments@bia.gov">comments@bia.gov</a> (please include “ICWA” in the subject line of the message); by postal service or hand-delivery to Ms. Elizabeth Appel, Office of Regulatory Affairs & Collaborative Action – Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street, N.W., MS-3642-MIB, Washington, D.C. 20240; by phone by calling 202-273-4680, or at <a href="http://www.regulations.gov" target="_blank">www.regulations.gov</a>. The Office of Indian Services Division of Human Services administers the BIA’s ICWA regulations at 25 CFR Part 23 and the Guidelines for State Courts. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.indianaffairs.gov/WhoWeAre/BIA/OIS/HumanServices/IndianChildWelfareAct/index.htm" target="_blank">http://www.indianaffairs.gov/WhoWeAre/BIA/OIS/HumanServices/IndianChildWelfareAct/index.htm</a>.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
03/24/2015 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Attorney General’s Office released a statement on March 23 stating that no charges would be filed against Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts or former Principal Chief Chad Smith for allegedly committing fraud. At a special March 13 Election Commission meeting, the EC announced it received five candidate challenges during the contest of candidate eligibility period of March 5-12. CN citizen Carole Richmond challenged Smith, who is running for the principal chief seat, and Cowan Watts, who had campaigned for the principal chief seat before deciding not to file for the position. In her protest against Cowan Watts, Richmond alleges fraud. “Cara Cowan Watts presented herself to the Cherokee people as a candidate for Chief for over two years,” Richmond states. “Legal action needs to be taken to return funds to donors.” In the Smith protest, Richmond states her challenge was based on fraud and unethical behavior, claiming Smith’s representation of Tribal Councilor Julia Coates in a case regarding her address and At-Large Tribal Council seat. “The legal documents demanded that the Election Commission accept the Los Angeles (address). In the 2015 election, Chad Smith wants Julia Coates to be deputy chief for him and now she lives in Tahlequah and meets the 270-day requirement for residency. It would appear if Chad Smith doesn’t get his way, he files a lawsuit,” Richmond writes. “It is my belief this is unethical, unprofessional and fraudulent behavior.” Both protests were forwarded to the Attorney General’s Office because they allege illegal activity, and the EC does not conduct criminal investigations. However, according to the Attorney General’s Office statement, “there does not appear to be sufficient evidence to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that either Mrs. Watts or Mr. Smith committed the crime of fraud.” Robert Garcia, assistant attorney general, said even though his office has declined prosecution, the EC should review the surrounding facts and circumstances to ensure there are not any non-criminal sanctions that may apply. “Should new evidence become available, this office will certainly revisit this request,” he said. Smith said Richmond’s protest against him was baseless. “Carole Richmond filed it for political sensationalism and it was absolutely baseless.” The Cherokee Phoenix attempted to get a comment from Cowan Watts, but was unsuccessful.