The Osage Nation Gaming Commission dismissed its petition threatening to strip the current Chief Executive Officer of Osage Casinos of her license and ban her as well as the Gaming Enterprise Board’s attorney working for the tribal casinos.
The Aug. 3 decision to drop the case was based on the realization that the accusations against Kimberly Pearson and attorney Greg Laird were based on a misunderstanding, according to the motion to dismiss, which was signed jointly by the lawyer for the Gaming Commission, Eugene Bertman, and Laird.
The motion says that Laird and Pearson acknowledge that agents with the Gaming Commission have the right to interview casino employees during audits and investigations.
Laird and Pearson had believed they had an agreement with the commission that all questions regarding the audit would go through Laird, but in fact the agreement was that the commission would request documents through Laird. The commission still retained its right to interview casino employees without any limitations, the agreement says.
“This misunderstanding is the basis of the current action,” the motion to dismiss says. “The laws cited in the Petition require an element of intent by the wrongdoers. Based on conversations with the parties, there was no intent to circumvent Osage law but rather a misunderstanding of the procedures in the instant case, and Respondents [Pearson and Laird] acknowledge the ONGC’s investigatory authority is not subject to limitations interposed by the regulated entity.”
The particular audit in question was one centering on credit card usage by casino employees, specifically the general manager of the Tulsa casino, Jeffry Bailey, the Director of Security and Surveillance, James Redcorn, Chief Information Officer Joe Roybal, Purchasing Manager Stephanie Parker and Acting Director of Compliance Ashlee Hartness.
In June, auditors were rebuffed from unscheduled personal interviews with the employees and a series of testy communications ensued during which Laird insisted that all communications go through him and Pearson sent an email to all casino employees instructing them to refer questions to Laird should they be approached by gaming investigators – an email she based on Laird’s advice.
The Gaming Commission came down swift and hard on both Laird and Pearson: On July 7, it filed a licensing action against Pearson that included the proposed banishment of Laird from working for the Gaming Enterprise because they had allegedly refused to cooperate with and obstructed a legitimate investigation. The action had proposed fining Pearson up to $25,000, revoking her gaming license, banning her and Laird from the casinos or having contracts with the casinos or the Gaming Enterprise Board.
The credit card audit is an extension of the investigation into spending by former CEO Byron Bighorse, who resigned in December 2022 after the Osage Nation Congress reclassified his confidential expense reports as public and faces a licensing hearing in late August. Pearson had been the Chief Operations Officer for the casinos – No. 2 in the leadership.
Calandra McCool, an attorney with Big Fire Law in Omaha, Neb., who was hired to represent Pearson and Laird in the licensing action, attended the Aug. 3 Gaming Commission meeting telephonically, as did most others. Both parties, McCool said, had been set straight and there was no intent to thwart the law: “There’s no reason for this case to go forward.”