Julie Malone, a five-year member of the Osage Nation’s Gaming Enterprise Board, tendered her resignation on Feb. 13 and seized upon that opportunity to admonish the Congress’ Commerce, Gaming and Land Committee for playing politics and creating a “negative spectacle.”
Malone is the second person to resign from the enterprise board in recent weeks: Mark Simms, who had been the longest-serving member with nine years of service, bowed out on Jan. 20, then unsuccessfully tried to rescind that resignation four days later.
The two resignations came as the Commerce Committee, as well as the tribal regulators at the Osage Nation Gaming Commission, investigate the expense reports of casino executives and enforcement of various expense policies at Osage Casinos. Malone’s resignation also leaves just three people – the minimum required for a quorum – on the gaming board.
All board nominees are chosen by the chief and confirmed by Congress; Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said he has found one potential candidate but he was not prepared to name that person until they had spoken with each other.
The Commerce Committee has been focused on expenses amassed by the former chief executive of the casinos, Byron Bighorse, who spent nearly $400,000 in the three years ending in December 2021 on food, alcohol, travel, golf outings, clubs and clothing but failed to report a business purpose or the names of those he hosted. Congress members have opined that many of the expenses were personal, and that casino money was spent on birthdays, alcohol, children and other non-business matters.
The Gaming Commission had been set to hold licensing hearings with Gaming Enterprise Board members on Feb. 15, but those have been postponed in order to give the board’s new attorney, Greg Laird, more time to prepare. Laird was just hired by the board on Feb. 6, the day before the Commerce Committee held its three-day investigative hearing on the expense issue. Laird replaces Dean Luthey, who resigned as the board’s lawyer in January.
In her letter of resignation to Chief Standing Bear, Malone was forthright in her disapproval of Congress’ actions.
After the Feb. 9 hearing at which she, Simms, gaming board chair Geoff Hager and former chair Mark Revard testified, Malone wrote that she could not continue.
“When I first became a board member in 2017, I was so excited and honored to serve our Osage Nation with my 18 years past gaming experience,” she wrote. “Our tribal distributions have increased by 57.5% in my five years of service. I have made three trips to Missouri to assist in getting our start in the casino plans of our former homeland. I have given many hours of study, service, advising, etc., with honor, integrity and respect.”
That respect, however, was not mutual, she wrote.
“I had hoped to continue serving until the end of my second term,” she wrote. “However, after the hearing, I cannot participate anymore with the negative spectacle being acted out and publicized with a strong political agenda displayed by the Commerce, Gaming, and Land Committee. They knew when asking their questions that I could not speak of confidential matters discussed in Executive Sessions in a public format. Billy Keene [a member of the Commerce Committee] and Jodie Revard [the chair of same] took the opportunity to portray my actions on the board as ‘willful neglect of duty and malfeasance in office.’ Brandy Lemon also asked if there was any notice of a Petition to Revoke/Suspend my license. All of the board members received the same notice, but I was the only one asked this question on public record.
“I refuse to submit to this any longer. I leave with the knowledge that I served the Osage Nation well, and I hold my head high. I wish continued success to the Osage Nation Gaming Enterprise and its board in providing the most important revenue for our people.”
Keene and Revard declined to comment on Malone’s letter because the Congress’ attorney advised them to remain silent.
When she was being questioned, Malone was tight-lipped when asked about any discussions that took place at the gaming board when it was in executive session, including as to whether the board had discussed firing Bighorse because of his violations of policy in properly reporting his expenses. “Yes, we had that discussion in executive session,” Malone said, replying to Revard. “I can’t talk about it.”
When asked by Keene whether she believed the gaming board had a “core function” to oversee Bighorse’s expenditures, Malone hesitated.
Malone asked if Keene meant credit card and club expenses, noting that Bighorse was allowed to belong to clubs and use a casino credit card for entertainment, travel and more.
“Do you feel your oversight was also applied to this realm of his behavior?” Keene repeated.
“No,” responded Malone.
Earlier in her testimony, Malone had said no “red flags” had been raised about the expenses until she noticed some large country club payments on the check register and brought it up with Mark Revard. The board subsequently pulled more expense records, and Malone said she was “shocked” by what they revealed. Revard, as chair, immediately required executive expenses to be approved by two board members – a move that immediately and dramatically cut expenses, but which has yet to be formally made a policy approved by the Gaming Commission or internal casino regulators.