Saturday, May 25, 2024
64.7 F
Pawhuska
HomeGovernmentLegislativeGaming Commission lawyer tight-lipped as Congressional committee plans hearing

Gaming Commission lawyer tight-lipped as Congressional committee plans hearing

The Commerce, Gaming and Land Committee will meet again on Jan. 9 to discuss its upcoming hearing on a declassified gaming commission report

An Osage Nation congressional committee will hold an investigative hearing on the spending of the tribal casinos’ former chief executive and the official response to the revelations contained in more than 1,500 pages of receipts for booze, wagyu steaks and caviar, first-class air tickets, private jets, golf clubs and clothing – most with no indication of the names of people who were being entertained at various clubs and restaurants.

The hearing date has yet to be set but Jodie Revard, who chairs the Congress’ Commerce, Gaming and Land Committee, said she expects it to be held before the Hun-Kah legislative session that begins on March 29.

In late November, Congress voted to declassify 1,556 pages of documents that showed Byron Bighorse, the CEO of Osage Casinos until he resigned Dec. 2, used a casino credit card to buy lavish dinners – with pricey wine, whisky and beer to wash them down – for unspecified guests at places like The Polo Grill and Mahogany Prime Steakhouse in Tulsa, as well as buying clothes and golf equipment at various clubs where the casino had memberships until the clubs unilaterally canceled them in late summer 2021 – which is when the profligate spending ceased.

Bighorse is the son-in-law of Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear; his wife, Jennifer Bighorse, was the casinos’ marketing director until late summer 2021 but her expenses were not a part of the declassified report.

Gaming Commission lawyer tight-lipped

At a commerce committee meeting on Dec. 28, two congressmen tried to pin down Eugene Bertman, the lawyer for the Osage Nation Gaming Commission, on questions pertaining to actions that the regulatory body has – or has not – taken.

Congressman Joe Tillman asked Bertman if the National Indian Gaming Commission, the national regulatory agency – had been informed about “possible scenarios, violations about the expenditures that we’ve received and you received from the gaming CEOs.”

Bertman sidestepped. “We have complied with whatever laws we are required to comply with pursuant to Osage or federal law,” he said, adding that it would be inappropriate to discuss an ongoing investigation in a public forum.

Retorted Tillman: “So you can’t answer that for the public to hear?”

Bertman: “I can’t answer that question.”

Tillman to Revard: “Chair, your thoughts?”

Revard: “My thoughts and opinion would be to reserve that for executive session. I don’t personally feel that your question is out of line. I don’t know why we couldn’t get an answer of yes or no, but I will respect Mr. Bertman with regard to proprietary information at this time.”

Congressman Billy Keene also had no success at wringing a public answer out of Bertman. Keene asked why officials had ignored Bighorse’s spending and his failure to report specifics in his expense reports as required by policy.

“We’re talking about specifics in the investigation,” Bertman said. “I’ll reserve those for executive session.”

Keene expressed some frustration. “There’s an institutional failure on multiple levels,” he said. “We’re talking from accounting and central to who’s looking at what. It’s multiple levels. That is basically the narrative that I can’t wrap my head around. It’s just the CEO.

“The other employees did a pretty good job documenting who they were with.”

The declassified documents also contained expense reports for Chief Operating Officer Kimberly Pearson, who was elevated to CEO when Bighorse resigned, Chief Financial Officer Tim Steinke, and executive assistant Kasi Stumpff. Among those, not much raised eyebrows except for a charge by Stumpff in July 2021 in Las Vegas for two intravenous vitamin treatments totaling $650, money that was reimbursed to the casinos more than a year later.

The expense reports do show apparent violations of Osage Casinos’ policy, including the booking of first-class air travel, which is only allowed for international flights, the omission of names of guests on expense accounts, and charges that appear personal, like the purchase of golf clubs, clothing and meals for both adults and children.

In August 2019, Bighorse also charged $456 – $299 of which was for detailing his Lincoln Navigator – at Fine Airport Parking in Tulsa. At the time, he was on a family vacation to Hawaii.

Active Inquisition to be limited to committee members

Revard said that subpoenas are being drafted commanding witnesses to appear before the investigative committee, but they cannot be served until a date and time for the hearing is slated. Active questioning, she added, will be limited to the current committee members: Chair Revard, vice chair Brandy Lemon, members Otto Hamilton, Paula Stabler, Joe Tillman and Billy Keene.

Revard added, however, that unlike a proposal when Congress member Shannon Edwards was being threatened with removal, she will allow members of Congress who are not on the committee to submit questions – through her as chair.

“The way I feel as chair is that if other Congress members have questions, they can submit them to the committee,” Revard said. “I don’t want to exclude any Congress member from asking questions but if they’re not on the committee they can’t participate directly.

“It’s a committee hearing but I’ll open it up to all Congress members. The chair has the right to say no but that’s not who I am.”

If the committee does recommend a course of action, Congress as a whole would vote on that. The Congress has the power only to remove appointed officials – such as members of the Gaming Enterprise Board – but cannot fire employees.

“If there’s a recommendation to remove a board member, that would be a congressional action,” Revard said. “Or we may say that the committee has investigated, and we think everything’s great. It’s up to the committee to decide what to report or action to recommend.”

The Osage Nation Gaming Commission, an appointed body that regulates the casinos, has the power to strip casino employees of their gaming licenses if it finds wrongdoing. The commerce committee has scheduled an all-day meeting for Jan. 9 at which plans for the investigative hearing should become firmer.

CORRECTION: Osage Congressman Billy Keene is also a member of the Congressional committee for Commerce, Gaming and Land. The Osage News regrets the error.

Author

  • Louise Red Corn

    Title: Reporter

    Email: louise.redcorn@osagenation-nsn.gov

    Twitter: @louiseredcorn

    Languages: English, Italian, rusty but revivable Russian

    Louise Red Corn has been a news reporter for 34 years and a photographer for even longer. She grew up in Northern California, the youngest child of two lawyers, her father a Pearl Harbor survivor who later became a state judge and her mother a San Francisco native who taught law at the University of California at Davis.

    After graduating from the U.C. Berkley with a degree in Slavic Languages and Literatures with no small amount of coursework in Microbiology, she moved to Rome, Italy, where she worked as a photographer and wordsmith for the United Nation’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, specializing in the French-speaking countries of Africa.

    When the radioactive cloud from Chernobyl parked over Rome in 1986, she escaped to New York City to work for the international editions of Time Magazine. She left Time for Knight-Ridder newspapers in Biloxi, Miss., Detroit and Lexington, Ky., During nearly 20 years with Knight-Ridder, she was a stringer (freelancer) for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Parade Magazine.

    In 2004, she married Raymond Red Corn and moved to Oklahoma, where she worked for the Tulsa World before she bought the weekly newspaper in Barnsdall and turned a tired newspaper into the award-winning Bigheart Times, which she sold in 2018. She hired on at the Osage News in early 2022.

    Throughout her career she has won dozens of state, national and international journalism awards.

    Red Corn is comfortable reporting on nearly any topic, the more complex the better, but her first love is covering courts and legal issues. Her proudest accomplishment was helping to exonerate a Tennessee man facing the death penalty after he was wrongfully charged with capital murder in Kentucky, a state he had never visited.

Louise Red Corn
Louise Red Cornhttps://osagenews.org

Title: Reporter

Email: louise.redcorn@osagenation-nsn.gov

Twitter: @louiseredcorn

Languages: English, Italian, rusty but revivable Russian

Louise Red Corn has been a news reporter for 34 years and a photographer for even longer. She grew up in Northern California, the youngest child of two lawyers, her father a Pearl Harbor survivor who later became a state judge and her mother a San Francisco native who taught law at the University of California at Davis.

After graduating from the U.C. Berkley with a degree in Slavic Languages and Literatures with no small amount of coursework in Microbiology, she moved to Rome, Italy, where she worked as a photographer and wordsmith for the United Nation’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, specializing in the French-speaking countries of Africa.

When the radioactive cloud from Chernobyl parked over Rome in 1986, she escaped to New York City to work for the international editions of Time Magazine. She left Time for Knight-Ridder newspapers in Biloxi, Miss., Detroit and Lexington, Ky., During nearly 20 years with Knight-Ridder, she was a stringer (freelancer) for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Parade Magazine.

In 2004, she married Raymond Red Corn and moved to Oklahoma, where she worked for the Tulsa World before she bought the weekly newspaper in Barnsdall and turned a tired newspaper into the award-winning Bigheart Times, which she sold in 2018. She hired on at the Osage News in early 2022.

Throughout her career she has won dozens of state, national and international journalism awards.

Red Corn is comfortable reporting on nearly any topic, the more complex the better, but her first love is covering courts and legal issues. Her proudest accomplishment was helping to exonerate a Tennessee man facing the death penalty after he was wrongfully charged with capital murder in Kentucky, a state he had never visited.

RELATED ARTICLES

Corrections:

CORRECTION: Osage Congressman Billy Keene is also a member of the Congressional committee for Commerce, Gaming and Land. The Osage News regrets the error.

In Case You Missed it...

Upcoming Events