Former councilors charged with fraud

BY WILL CHAVEZ
Assistant Editor – @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 ASSOCIATED PRESS
02/21/2017 10:00 AM
BOSTON (AP) — Native Americans hope President Donald Trump doesn't forget America's first inhabitants as he promises to put "America first." Tribes have been reaching out to the Republican administration since it took office last month, saying they're ready to help it meet its campaign promises of improving the economy and creating more jobs for Americans. Five large tribes in Oklahoma — the Cherokee, Chickasaw , Choctaw, Muscogee Creek and Seminoles — have requested a meeting with the New York billionaire during his first 100 days in office so they can talk about ways to advance their common interests. In Massachusetts, leaders of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, descendants of the Native Americans who first encountered the Pilgrims nearly four centuries ago, have been echoing similar sentiments to Trump officials as they seek approval of reservation lands to build a $1 billion resort casino south of Boston. "Tribes are pouring billions and billions of dollars into the U.S. to help make America great again," said Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the 2,600-member, federally recognized tribe, playing off Trump's campaign slogan. "All of these economies we're creating, from resort casinos to malls to businesses. We're job creators. That's a story that's never really told." But tribes elsewhere have already steeled for battle just weeks into the new administration. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota has asked the courts to overturn recent federal approvals for the Dakota Access pipeline. The tribe and its supporters are also planning a large demonstration in Washington on March 10. "The Trump Administration is circumventing the law: wholly disregarding the treaty rights of the Standing Rock Sioux," Jan Hasselman, an attorney representing the tribe, said in a statement. "It isn't the 1800s anymore — the U.S. government must keep its promises." The tribes along the nation's border with Mexico have also voiced concerns about the impact Trump's proposed wall will have on their sovereign lands. And other tribal advocates are closely watching what comes of Republicans' promises to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. The law included federal funds for tribal health care programs, and stripping them could have "disastrous consequences," dozens of tribal groups wrote in a December letter to congressional leaders. Despite the uncertainties, many tribal leaders say they're still hopeful they can build on the strong relationships enjoyed under prior administrations. They've found reason to cheer in Trump's pick to lead the Department of Interior, Ryan Zinke, a Republican congressman from Montana who's pledged to "restore trust" between the agency, the states and Indian tribes. "Yes, we are looking for ways to partner. Now, do we have assumptions because he's been in battles with other tribes? Sure, and we're looking to clarify those assumptions," says Gary Batton, chief of the roughly 200,000-member Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. "Is he open to considering that each tribal government is its own separate entity and unique? That's the way we're approaching this." On the campaign trail, Trump gave little indication how he might approach tribes, but many see promise in the administration's broader goals. "Infrastructure, energy development, education and job creation," said Jacqueline Pata, a member of the Tlingit-Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska's Central Council and executive director for the National Congress of American Indians. "Those are things that have been critical in Indian Country for a long, long time." Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation, says his members will be looking for greater control over water, land, criminal justice and taxation on their sovereign lands, which straddle parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. "If Trump is about self-sufficiency and self-determination, let's see if he really means that," he said. "Give us full authority over our lands. If this land is ours, why are we asking the federal government for permission?" Tribes with casino dreams, meanwhile, are optimistic that Trump's experience in the industry, as well as his promises to ease businesses regulations, will work in their favor, said Jason Giles, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma and executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association. Trump once owned three Atlantic City, New Jersey, casinos, though two have since shuttered and one operates under different owners. Tribes are even willing, for now, to overlook the president's past off-color statements about Native Americans. Testifying before Congress in 1993, the then-casino mogul questioned the legitimacy of some of his tribal rivals. "Go up to Connecticut," Trump said, referring to the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, owners of Foxwoods Resort Casino. "They don't look like Indians to me." Giles called Trump's past remarks "troublesome" but says he and other tribal representatives have been assured by Trump's advisers that those statements aren't reflective of the current administration, which didn't respond to requests for comment for this story. "We're taking them at their word," he said. "We're going into this with open arms."
BY JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
02/21/2017 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During a special meeting on Feb. 16, Election Commission Administrator Brooke Tillison submitted her resignation letter to the EC, citing job stress. At the meeting, commissioners went into executive session to discuss personnel. Upon returning Commissioner Pam Sellers motioned to accept the resignation. The motion stated that Feb. 24 was to be Tillison’s last day of employment. It also put Tillison on administrative leave until her resignation took effect. Commissioner Carolyn Allen seconded the motion and it passed unopposed. In a statement, Tillison wrote that she “enjoyed making a difference” at the EC, beginning her tenure at the commission as a clerk before being promoted to administrator. However, she cited job stress as the reason for resigning. “Unfortunately the tremendous amount of stress has made it impossible for me to continue being the Administrator,” she stated. “I am very appreciative of the Commissioners and staff who continue to give their best efforts while maintaining strong morals. I wish you all the best of luck in the election and the future.” Previously, Wanda Beaver, who stated having grievances with Commissioners Bill Horton, Hart, Martha Calico, Shawna Calico and Allen, resigned in 2014. Former Administrators Keeli Duncan and Madison Thomas resigned in 2016 and 2015, respectively. The Phoenix requested comment from Duncan and Thomas but didn’t receive a response from Duncan, and Thomas declined to comment. The Phoenix was unable to contact Beaver. The Phoenix requested a statement from the EC regarding Tillison’s resignation, but had not received one as of publication. The EC also held a meeting on Feb. 14, in which it amended each commissioner’s contract and its attorney’s contract in the amounts of $15,600 and $24,000, respectively. Also approved were three press releases to be sent to the Phoenix regarding the upcoming Tribal Council elections and a process for someone who becomes incapacitated during an election, but still would like to vote. Commissioners also went into executive session for personnel reasons. Upon their return, they said no action was taken.
BY TRAVIS SNELL
Assistant Editor – @cp_tsnell
02/17/2017 11:15 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY – Despite denying he did anything wrong, Cherokee Nation citizen and Dist. 86 Rep. Will Fourkiller said he would accept the recommendations from a House of Representatives committee that investigated him and another state representative for sexual harassment claims. “I take this matter very seriously and want to take steps to avoid even an appearance of impropriety,” Fourkiller, D-Stilwell, stated in a letter delivered Feb. 13 to House Speaker Charles McCall. The special House committee recommended on Feb. 2 that Fourkiller undergo sensitivity training and have no interaction with the legislative body’s page program for a year. He was accused of making inappropriate comments to a high school-age House page in 2015. According to the program, high schools students from the state serve as pages for a week during regular legislative sessions and do interact with legislators. The committee’s report states when the accusation was made in 2015 Fourkiller did not acknowledge or deny making the comments. Fourkiller has since denied any wrongdoing. “I have made the decision to voluntarily agree to follow both recommendations of the Committee,” Fourkiller wrote in the letter to McCall. On Jan. 17, Fourkiller declined to appear before the committee saying he would only speak the to the Special Investigation Committee if the proceeding was open to the public. According to reports, the committee had heard from witnesses in only closed sessions. “A confidential, closed-door proceeding does not provide the equitable forum to repair my character and reputation,” he told Rep. Josh Cockroft, who chaired the committee, in a letter. Fourkiller on Jan. 11 said he was made aware in 2015 that a page had indicated he had said something that made her uncomfortable and he had apologized. “I do not know what I did or said, but whatever it was I certainly didn’t mean to do it, and I apologized,” he said. He added that the 2015 incident is the only one that he was made aware of by House staff. The House has declined to release the complaint, citing personnel reasons. With his decision, Fourkiller avoids a vote in the Republican-controlled House on the committee’s recommendations. The committee also recommended expelling Tulsa Republican Rep. Dan Kirby from the House. The committee’s report says Kirby took one of his legislative assistants to a strip club and received topless photos of her. Kirby submitted his resignation on Feb. 4, which was to take effect March 1. He initially resigned in late December after reports of a publicly funded settlement with another woman surfaced, but later rescinded his resignation. The committee also determined the House had the authority to spend money to settle the wrongful termination agreement paid to one of the accusers. Officials said there was no financial settlement in the complaint against Fourkiller. Fourkiller was first elected to the Dist. 86 seat in 2011. He was re-elected in 2013 and 2015. He also ran for principal chief of the CN in 2015, finishing third at 10.58 percent with 2,040 votes.
BY STAFF REPORTS
02/16/2017 01:45 PM
CUMMING, Ga. – The next meeting of the Georgia Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association will begin at 10:30 a.m. on March 11 at the 1923 Cumming School. The school, a structure named to the National Register in 2000, is the home of the Forsyth County Historical Society and the Cumming Playhouse. The meeting will be in the library inside the building. Speakers will be local historians John Salter and George Pirkle. The men will be sharing their knowledge and research about the Blackburn/Buffington communities and the Old Federal Road. There was a great deal of Cherokee Indian commerce conducted along the Old Federal Road in Forsyth County. The Trail of Tears Association was created to support the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail established by an act of Congress in 1987. The TOTA is dedicated to identifying and preserving sites associated with the removal of Native Americans from the southeastern United States. The Georgia TOTA chapter is one of nine state chapters representing the nine states that the Cherokee and other tribes traveled through on their way to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). GATOTA meetings are free and open to the public. People need not have Native American ancestry to attend GATOTA meetings, just an interest and desire to learn more about this tragic period in this country’s history. For more information about the TOTA, visit <a href="http://www.nationaltota.com" target="_blank">www.nationaltota.com</a> or <a href="http://www.gatrailoftears.org" target="_blank">www.gatrailoftears.org</a>. The address for the Old Cumming School is 101 School St. For more information about the March meeting, email Tony Harris at <a href="mailto: harris7627@bellsouth.net">harris7627@bellsouth.net</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
02/15/2017 12:00 PM
STILWELL, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials on Feb. 7 donated $55,000 to four Adair County law enforcement agencies. Tribal Council Secretary Frankie Hargis, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden presented checks to law officials. The Adair County Sheriff’s Department received $25,000, and the Stilwell, Westville and Watts police departments each received $10,000. “As with most state-funded entities, our law enforcement agencies are feeling the budget cuts, and I’m so proud that our tribe can step up and help try to alleviate some of the budget woes,” Hargis said. “These brave men and women put their safety and lives at risk every day, and I hope that this money can help provide the necessary equipment and tools to keep them safe while they are working to keep us safe in Adair County.” Adair County Sheriff Jason Ritchie said the tribe’s support is crucial for the safety of deputies and citizens. “The Cherokee Nation’s support means so much to us because it provides vital equipment we need and a lot of times can’t afford, like vests, less lethal weapons and things like cars. It really means a lot to us,” Ritchie said. Hoskin said it’s important for the tribe to be a good partner with local law enforcement in order to protect both Cherokees and non-Cherokees alike. “Having properly equipped and funded law enforcement is vital for our communities, and that’s why the tribe dedicates a portion of its car tag sales revenue to our local agencies,” he said. “We want to be a good partner to these local agencies because we want to ensure our law enforcement can keep all members of our communities safe. I commend Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis for maintaining a good relationship with the agencies in Adair County and for always helping to meet their needs.” The donated funds come from the tribe’s car tag sales revenue. Each year the tribe dedicates 20 percent of the revenue to law enforcement agencies.
BY STAFF REPORTS
02/14/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The next meeting of the Tahlequah Writers group is 2 p.m. on Feb. 18 at the Cherokee Arts Center multi-purpose room at 212 S. Water St. The public is invited. Area writers are encouraged to bring their works to be critiqued. Also, attendees will be able to report on what they are up to regarding writing and reports will be provided on writing activities in the area. Tahlequah Writers group facilitator Karen Coody Cooper announced people can purchase Tahlequah Writers’ anthology “Green Country Writing From Northeastern Oklahoma” at Blurb.com. Funds from the book’s sales go to the non-profit “Save the Illinois River.” Writers whose works are in the anthology are Rilla Askew, Robert J. Conley, Mary J. Howard, Jessica B. Cornell, Amanada Bales, Regina McLemore, Ron Vann, Terry Alexander, Shaun Perkins, Barbara Clouse, James Murray, Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, Dusty Richards, Linda Neal Reising, Jerry E. Clouse, Pamela Chew, Jonita Mullins, Chloe Abshier, Claudia Mundell, Karen Coody Cooper, Terri M. Baker and Rodney Wilhite. The writers provide many perspectives of life in Green Country in northeastern Oklahoma. Monthly Tahlequah Writers meetings are casual and involve news of interest to writers and updates on what attendees are writing. Attendees include poets, fiction writers, historians, essayists, humorists, playwrights, scriptwriters, and more. Meetings discuss the art of writing as well as the business of publishing and promotion. For more information, call Cooper at 918-207-0093 or email <a href="mailto: karcoocoo@att.net">karcoocoo@att.net</a>. People can also visit Tahlequah Writers on Facebook.