Nine former members of the Winnebago Tribal Council have been indicted by a federal grand jury which alleges they skimmed money from the tribe’s casino.
United States Attorney Deborah Gilg announced the 11-count indictment, stating a court hearing has been scheduled for early next month.
Each one of the nine has been charged with conspiracy, theft, and misapplication of funds belonging to an Indian gambling establishment. They also faces charges of wire fraud.
Charged in the indictment are 61-year-old John Blackhawk, 49-year-old Darwin Snyder, 55-year-old Thomas Snowball, Jr., 69-year-old Louis Houghton, 70-year-old Lawrence Payer, 38-year-old Travis Mallory, 48-year-old Charles Aldrich, 70-year-old Morgan Earth, and 76-year-old Ramona Wolfe.
A special tribal investigator first raised questions about the use of prepaid credit cards, WinnaVegas Casino Resort complimentary services, casino gift certificates, tribal council loans, payroll advances, bonus payments, and other financial irregularities.
Then, agents from the FBI office in Omaha began a full-scale investigation.
The case set out by the FBI is complicated.
The indictment states each defendant received a salary of more than $80,000 in 2013, which was increased to more than $87,000 in 2014, after tribal council salaries were increased by about 35% in February of 2013, retroactive to the first of October in 2012. The move to make the raises retroactive provided lump sum payments ranging from $8,288.56 to $11,602.92. Also, each defendant received five separate bonuses totaling nearly $6,000 in 2013 and six separate bonuses totaling $11,019.23 in 2014. The defendants also got paychecks for unused vacation time. Some received longevity pay of between $3,200 and $5,000.
Federal investigators say that even with the high salaries and big bonuses from the Winnebago Tribe, the defendants devised a scheme in which they received money directly from the WinneVegas Casino without going through normal accounting procedures. The gift certificates totaled $87,000 in 2013 and 2014. The total amount loaded onto the debit cards for the two years was $240,500. The indictment also alleges those distributions were made contrary to tribe policy and were not approved by the Winnebago Gaming Commission.
Federal prosecutors peg the total loss to the WinneVegas Casino at $327,500.
“These individuals used their elected official positions to enrich themselves and in the process betrayed the trust of their peers and those they were elected to serve. The FBI Omaha Division will remain steadfast in aggressively investigating those responsible for perpetrating schemes like this and will continue to pursue all allegations of public corruption,” FBI Supervisory Agent in Charge Randy Thysse said in a written statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Defendants claimed the extra payments compensated for additional duties they performed, a claim rejected by the FBI.