A Brief Look at Crime 7/01 – 7/07

St. Croix Chippewa tribe is facing $5.5 million fine for pocketing and misappropriating $1.5 million

The impoverished St. Croix Chippewa tribe is being fined $5.5 million because some of its leaders pocketed or misappropriated more than $1.5 million in tribal gaming funds, the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission said in a blistering notice. The proposed fine comes one month after commission chairman Jonodev O. Chaudhuri charged the tribe with 527 violations of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, commission regulations and tribal law. The maximum fine allowed for those violations is $27.7 million. “The tribal Council members, gaming Commissioners, consultants and other individuals named in the Notice of Violation diverted at least $1.5 million away from tribal resources to line their own pockets,” Chaudhuri wrote in an notice Thursday. The actions become more “egregious” in light of the tribe’s recent arguments to the commission in which the tribe “claims that ‘it is impossible to overstate the precariousness of the tribe’s current financial situation,’ ” Chaudhuri wrote.

The tribe, based in Burnett County, has about 1,000 members, many of whom live in poverty. Sources said tribal members receive a per capita dividend of about $400 a month from tribe’s profitable gaming operation, including its flagship casino in Turtle Lake. Chaudhuri said he would take the St. Croix Chippewa “at its word” regarding its financial condition. “But I also recognize that this may not be the case but for the misappropriations of net gaming revenue committed by the council members and gaming commissioners,” he wrote. Chaudhuri added later that “the tribe would have an additional $1.5 million in available funds if they had not been repeatedly doled out to the tribe’s own leaders, ‘consultants’ and others for personal gain.”

Attorney tells jury Kim Birge stole more than $1 million from Savannah victims

An attorney for 11 victims of former Chatham County Probate Court Clerk Kim Birge on Monday told jurors that his clients lost more than $409,000 to her theft while she traveled and gambled with the proceeds and she drove Corvettes. Those sums were among the $1 million Birge stole from the court over an eight-year period from children who had lost their parents, the elderly or physically injured or mentally handicapped, attorney Brent Savage told a Chatham County State Court jury empaneled to hear the civil case. Included among those victims were several people who lost their husbands and fathers in the Feb. 8, 2008, fire and explosion at the Savannah Sugar Refinery in Port Wentworth that killed 14 and injured dozens more. But attorney Walter Ballew, who represents Birge, told the jurors that people who knew Birge were “shocked by her conduct” which he blamed on opioid and gambling addictions that spun out of control. Birge, 64, was not in court. She remains incarcerated in a federal prison in West Virginia where she is serving a six-year term after pleading guilty in federal court on July 31, 2015, to stealing $232,000 from the Probate Court as part of a scheme in which the government said she stole more than $750,000 over a three-year period.

Atlanta lawyer ordered to repay $40M after embezzlement 

Before he went to federal prison last year for embezzling millions, Atlanta lawyer Nat Hardwick testified about how good a guy he was. Among the evidence he cited was his accessibility, how he’d always return clients’ messages quickly even as he was busy building an empire of a law firm. Hardwick is now serving 15 years in a low security federal prison in Kentucky, but he’s still prompt. On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Eleanor Ross ordered him to pay $40 million in restitution. The feds then went after him for defrauding the firm of millions to fund his gambling habit and want for a luxurious existence. This past October, the jury convicted Hardwick of conspiring to commit wire fraud and multiple counts of wire fraud and making a false statement to federally insured financial institution. The judge’s order said Hardwick must pay $23.3 million for Fidelity Bank and another $17 million to individuals.

Report of man with sawed-off shotgun leads to discovery of illegally operating casino

Deputies who were called to an Oildale business to a report of a man armed with a sawed-off shotgun discovered an illegally operating casino, according to sheriff’s officials. Deputies learned that business was an illegally operating casino, sheriff’s officials said. The suspect was inside and refusing to allow patrons to leave. Deputies surrounded the casino. After several attempts to contact people inside, three patrons left and said the man with the shotgun was still inside. The man, later identified as Jorge Sandoval, 26, surrendered after a brief standoff, deputies said. A search warrant was served on the business and the shotgun and a single two-player electronic “fish game” was located inside. Sandoval was arrested on suspicion of crimes including false imprisonment, possession of a short -barreled shotgun and engaging in operation of an illegal casino.

Rivers Casino fined $90,000 for underage gambling, drinking 

The Rivers Casino was fined $90,000 by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Wednesday for seven instances in which individuals younger than 21 gained access in order to gamble and consume alcohol. Technically, the fine was imposed on Holdings Acquisitions Co., the operator of the Rivers, after individuals ranging in age from 17 to 20 used slot machines and/or played table games. Six of the seven also drank, according to the gaming board. The North Shore casino posts signs throughout advising that access is restricted to adults 21 and older, and its security staff at entrances customarily check IDs of young adults to verify they meet the age requirement. State regulators hold the casino accountable for anyone on the premises who is below 21. “We take these matters seriously, and the incidents were self-reported,” casino spokesman Jack Horner said in an emailed statement. “We’ve reviewed and modified internal procedures to help prevent recurrence. We respect the decision of the gaming board.”

Federal prosecutors say Omaha man bilked Medicare of more than $670K in multi-state scam

An Omaha man is accused of bilking Medicare of more than $674,000 in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and a dozen other states, allegedly throwing pizza parties at nursing homes and going to homeless shelters promising them all freebies in order to get Social Security information to further the scam. Vaccaro said the business has moved several times since it opened in November 2010, but most recently had an address on Millard Avenue in Omaha, moving out at the end of February. During the investigation, he said, agents learned through witnesses that Sutko visited assisted-living facilities, retirement centers and low-income housing complexes in Nebraska and neighboring states and set up pizza parties to show people eligible for Medicare and Medicaid the products Better Lives offered. In all, Sutko is alleged to have filed 1,666 claims, charging Medicare $1,172,802 and getting $674,106. Many of the claims — 700 — involved Nebraskans. Vaccaro said after concerns came up that Sutko may have a gambling problem, investigators served subpoenas on three casinos in the Council Bluffs, Iowa, area. Through them, they learned that Sutko had lost more than $350,000 between 2013 and September 2018, he said.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION

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