Legal

Former Pawhuska Village Board members plead not guilty in missing money case

The four men charged in the case of the unaccounted Pawhuska Indian Village money each pled “not guilty” to several charges of misusing public funds in Osage Nation Trial Court on Feb. 13. The Osage Nation Attorney General’s office filed the charges against the four men – all former Pawhuska Five-Man Board members – on Jan. 30.

One by one, Theodore Brunt, Kenneth “KC” Bills, Joe Don Mashunkashey and Frank Redcorn each appeared before presiding Trial Court Judge Marvin Stepson on Feb. 13. They entered verbal “not guilty” pleas to the charges they each allegedly, “made a profit for himself or another when not lawfully entitled to such,” regarding the village money that has been generated by the Pawhuska Osage Casino lease since its 2003 opening within the southeastern corner of the village jurisdiction.    

Brunt, Bills, Redcorn and Mashunkashey are each named as defendants in the four separate cases filed by Attorney General Jeff Jones. The Osage Nation is listed as the plaintiff in all four.

All four men are due back in court on March 13, which was set by Stepson.

Jones, who is representing the Nation in court, agreed with the scheduling so three of the defendants have an opportunity to seek legal counsel. Mashunkashey appeared with his Tulsa-based attorney Trevor Reynolds.

At issue in these cases is the $806,000 in village revenue that is unaccounted for, according to a September 2012 audit report by the Osage Nation Office for Fiscal Performance and Review, which attempted to audit the Five-Man Board finances. According to the OFPR audit report, the Pawhuska village received just over $857,000 from its rental lease with Osage Casino and its predecessor Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino for the period between November 2008 and July 2012.

Mashunkashey, who was the Five-Man Board Chairman at the time of the 2012 OFPR audit attempt, refused to participate in the OFPR audit. In its report, the OFPR said Mashunkashey was the sole board member responsible for the village’s bank account at the time; that about $50,000 of village money was spent on residential electric bills (with over $12,244 for Mashunkashey’s own residence) and board meetings were not held regularly. Mashunkashey resigned less than a week after the OFPR report was released and apologized to the community. Mashunkashey also told the Osage News shortly after he resigned that he repaid the money used for his electric bills back to the bank.

In wake of Mashunkashey’s resignation, the remaining board members, which included Brunt and Redcorn at the time, decided to let the village residents elect a new board, which it did in October 2012. Current board member Asa Cunningham, who served on the previous board, told the OFPR she did not have knowledge of the village finances at the time despite serving as board secretary/treasurer and was not charged in the case.

In conclusion, the OFPR issued a “disclaimer of opinion” in the Pawhuska Five-Man Board’s audit report, due to the lack of records.

Despite an FBI investigation in wake of the OFPR report, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tulsa declined to file federal charges in 2013, but Jones said his office would continue investigating to determine if tribal charges are warranted.

According to Osage law, one charge of misusing public funds is punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000, or by a jail term not to exceed one year, or by banishment for a period of 5-10 years – or any combination of the authorized punishments.

The affidavits also refer to the Pawhuska village constitution and allege the four men violated Article V Section A, which states “None of the members of this village committee nor the (village) residents shall derive any profit, gain, or renumeration through the operation and maintenance of public facilities in the Pawhuska Indian Village.”

According to the affidavits by Herbert, the investigation is still “continuing” despite the charges filed against the four men thus far.