St. Croix Chippewa Indian Tribe of Wisconsin accused of embezzling $1.5M from casino

According to federal regulators, tribal leaders of the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin pocketed a minimum of $1.5 million in casino funds or used the revenues to cover expenses for trips to Las Vegas and Hawaii, with either no receipts or documentation, or too little, accounting for the disbursements.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports…

Arizona attorney, Eric Dahlstrom, who has about four decades of experience in Indian legal issues, said that “The dollar amounts are staggering.”

“There is no way to correct these violations”

Strictly regulated:

“I certainly haven’t seen (a Notice of Violation) as large as this. … Tribal gaming funds are strictly regulated and should be  used to provide badly needed government service and build infrastructure.”

According to the Friday report from the Milwaukee newspaper,  74 payments totaling $154,173 were listed among the distributions in the National Indian Gaming Commission‘s (NIGC) 29-page Notice of Violation that went to the tribe’s longtime chairman, Lewis Taylor, from 2014 to 2017. While 94 payments totaling $235,888 were received by Tribal Council member Elmer “Jay” Emery during the same period, the United States independent federal regulatory agency within the Department of the Interior charged.

Turtle Lake:

Additionally, regulators said that 275 payments totaling $562,246 were issued to seven tribal members by the St. Croix Casino Turtle Lake from 2015 to 2017.

Along with the Turtle Lake casino and hotel, which employs about 1,000 people, the Federally recognized tribe located in northwestern Wisconsin is responsible for the “Little Turtle” Hertel Express Casino in Hertel, and the St. Croix Casino and Hotel Danbury in Danbury.

IGRA infractions:

In total, the lengthy Notice of Violation comprises 527 violations of the 1988 United States federal law that establishes the jurisdictional framework that governs Indian gaming, Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), along with tribal ordinances and NIGC regulations. According to the notice, the total fine could well exceed $27 million, with each violation resulting in a fine of $52,596.

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Notice of Violation:

Signed by NIGC Chairman Jo 7BALL nodev O. Chaudhuri, the notice states…

“Many of the payments — worth hundreds of thousands of dollars — were issued to the same small group of people, often with the only supporting document being a request for disbursement form with the words ‘travel’ or ‘consulting fees’ scrawled into the comments section.

“Upon further questioning by NIGC investigators, the tribe was unable to produce documentation to support treating the payments as expenses of the gaming operation.”

Accelerated process:

Due to the seriousness of the many charges, the NIGC decided to forgo its normal sequence of first issuing a concern letter prior to a notice of violation being sent.

The document states, “In this case, however, given the pervasiveness and serious nature of the violations, coupled with the fact that many of the individuals identified in the Notice of Violation are still in a position to direct casino and net gaming revenues, the chair has decided to proceed directly” and issue the notice.

Possible further action:

Other probes could result from the notice said California lawyer, Rory Dilweg, who has in excess of 20 years of experience in Indian legal issues.

The Journal Sentinel reports that Dilweg said in an email, “The NIGC has documented over $1.5 million in unaccounted funds. This is very serious,” and noted that the NIGC “could issue a closure order for the Tribe’s casinos.” He added, in addition to that, “there could also be action taken by other agencies such as the FBI, the IRS, and Wisconsin Department of Revenue.”

Damage is done:

The findings in the notice can be appealed by the tribe to the full NIGC, however, according to the language, it [the notice] leaves little to no hope that the damage could be undone by the tribe. “There is no way to correct these violations, but (Chairman Chaudhuri) will consider the tribe’s efforts taken to mitigate damages when determining an appropriate civil fine,” as stated in the notice.

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