The three men who advised the Osage LLC on how best to operate the Osage Nation Ranch were summarily removed from that role on June 10 in a letter that accused them of spreading “false accusations.”
Frank Freeman, the chair of Osage LCC, said June 14 that the letter had been composed by the company’s attorney, Adam Marshall, who works with the law firm Barrow & Grimm, a firm that has represented various entities within the Nation. The letter was not signed by Marshall but electronically by Freeman.
The letter says that unnamed members of the Osage Nation Congress told the Osage LLC board that they had heard allegations that cash had been taken from the ranch to fund other companies under the Osage LLC umbrella, that the ranch “cannot purchase feed” because it failed to pay bills, and that the ranch payroll was “NOT being paid on time and having big discrepancies.”
“Not ONE of the allegations is true!” says the letter to now-former ranch advisors Galen Crum, Hank Hainzinger and Dr. Ladd Oldfield.
“While the Board is not accusing you with having made these allegations, the Board has lost confidence in the Advisory Board and the Board’s ability to continue as a healthy working relationship in light of circumstances surrounding the allegations as relayed by members of Congress.”
Oldfield, a retired veterinarian in Ponca City, declined to comment on the letter or other allegations regarding Freeman that came to light after he and his two colleagues were dismissed as advisors.
Crum and Hainzinger, however, were of one voice. They denied ever having made any of the allegations as outlined in the June 10 letter but did say that since Congress made the Osage Nation Ranch a subsidiary of the Osage LLC in October of 2021, the ranch has suffered under the leadership of the LLC and its chairman, Freeman.
For instance, bills that were sent to Osage LLC’s office in Skiatook via the U.S. Postal Service were not paid timely because they were not sent to the accountant for payment, leading at least one feed company requesting late fees – but no cut-off – and electricity being shut off at ranch houses occupied by cowboys.
The three advisors even had their computers taken and they subsequently appeared to have been wiped clean, leaving Osage LLC unable to locate hunting and other leases, Crum said.
After six years of auction, cattle may be sold privately
But far more important than such chaos to both Crum and Hainzinger are actions that Freeman has taken that they believe could jeopardize the ranch’s future and lower its profits.
Both men said that Freeman appears poised to buck the ranch’s practice of selling more than 700 calves at auction, instead opting for a private sale to an unnamed individual to whom he was introduced to by his rancher sister.
Hainzinger, a fifth-generation Osage cattle rancher who still owns his forebears’ original allotment, said that he, Crum and Oldfield have sold the Nation’s cattle at auction for six years and steadfastly avoided involving any relative in the ranch business.
For the past two years, the ranch has sold cattle at a nationally viewed video auction spearheaded by South Coffeyville Stockyards. This year, no Osage cattle have been entered in the 15,000-head July auction, said organizer Tylen Layton; the deadline is about June 24.
In the past years, Layton said that Osage Nation cattle set the auction records for price per hundredweight.
That was largely because the ranch has always received certain certifications regarding humane treatment, vaccination and other medical matters for its animals from a third party. The certifications cost about $12 a head, Crum said, but the cattle fetch a premium price that can increase profit by about $85 a head.
“We was being innovative,” Hainzinger said. “We were doing what the industry was wanting and our cattle were going mostly to the higher-end market, mostly to 44 Farms (a high-end black Angus beef producer that recently partnered with Walmart).
“It’s like buying a Cadillac versus a Chevelle.”
The unnamed private buyer for this summer’s crop of Osage cattle, however, declared he wasn’t interested in the certifications, suggesting that he was unwilling to pay a premium for them, Crum said.
“When we ran the ranch, the board never even got to see the bid until the day we opened them. There was no hanky-panky, and we did the same way with construction bids.
“We made sure there was no favoritism or corruption going on.
“This deal is going to be Frank and this guy, best I can tell.”
The Osage News sent a letter to Freeman containing 19 questions about the cattle sale, how his sister, Rebecca Leonard, became Osage LLC’s office manager, whether the LLC’s insurance account had been moved and to whom and questions about ranch bills not being paid in a timely fashion. Freeman did not answer any of the questions but said he had turned the list over to the LLC’s attorney, Marshall. Marshall did not respond to an email on June 17 inquiring as to if and when responses might be forthcoming.
One LLC board member, Danny Sadler, said that the letter terminating the three advisors was sent with board approval, but both he and the third member, Richard Perrier, said they don’t have much to do with ranch issues. Osage LLC is the Nation’s business arm that governs several businesses, including Osage Nation Environmental Services, the newly formed Osage Nation Government Services, Skyway 36 drone park in Tulsa, and others.
Bank accounts were growing, ranch was turning a profit
Crum and Hainzinger said that their relationship with Freeman started going steeply south this spring, when Freeman appeared before the congressional Commerce Committee in which he said, among other things, that the Osage Nation Ranch had been losing money and had been “mismanaged.”
“He must’ve said ‘mismanagement’ five times,” said Crum. “And that we were losing money. I couldn’t figure that out. I’m not an accountant but we have some.
“Our bank account was growing, and we were paying all our bills. How is that losing money? Every time we had enough money, we bought cattle. And we always left a $1 million dollar balance in case something went wrong, like if we had a drought.
“He kept saying it was because of ‘retained earnings’ but you can’t have retained earnings as long as you’re investing money back into the business.”
In February, the ranch won an award as the agricultural Conservationist of the Year in Oklahoma, a distinction that does not imply mismanagement but the opposite.
Thanks to those conservation efforts, the land is healthier now than it was under media mogul Ted Turner’s ownership, when it was overgrazed, Hainzinger said: “We had one cow to 14-15 acres to start. Now there’s a cow to every 10 acres.”
Crum and Hainzinger said that during the Osage LLC executive session, they challenged Freeman about his statements before the congressional Commerce Committee, and the relationship soured thereafter.
“We ran that ranch for six years and the board started with not even a pair of pliers or a pickup,” Hainzinger said. “We built it up to 2,400-plus cows, we doubled the number of bison (to over 200), built 38 miles of fence, two buildings and a feedlot. We basically built the ranch in six years when it would have taken another person a generation. We’ve done well.”
‘Wolves baying at the door’
When Congress put what the ranch – at the time, the Nation’s only profitable business besides the casinos – under Osage LLC, the three board members were paid paltry sums in light of the amount of work: Crum, as chairman, was paid $1,750 a month while Hainzinger and Oldfield each received $1,400. That stipend came out of the ranch, not the Nation, as it does with other boards. Soon after Congress’ action, the ranch board was dissolved but the Osage LLC decided to keep the three men on as an informal advisory board, service for which they were paid the said stipends.
“Gosh, I live a considerable distance away and there were hours and hours of trips. I used up a lot of vehicles and probably ended up at a net loss, personally,” Crum said.
But all three had a great deal of pride in what they did at the ranch, including the fact that all but one of the employees are Osage, and that it was always looked upon as a good place to work even though paychecks only came monthly, and it bore the stigma of being a government operation.
“There was so much positive that happened,” Hainzinger said. “It was a wonderful opportunity.
“I hate to see it getting crossways like this. It’s wrecking the ranch.
“I want to do the right thing. The easiest thing to do is to lease it out for $50 an acre but no one will take care of it like you do your own self. We were watching our grass all the time, moving cattle so it stayed healthy.
“I don’t want to see anybody getting a hold of it who’s non-Osage, especially someone like the Drummonds.
“When things like this happen, wolves are outside baying at the door. They’re ready to swoop in.”