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4 charged with tribal embezzlement

Not guilty pleas were entered recently by four former members of a five-man board which had formerly overseen operations at the Pawhuska Indian Village, a 600-acre tract of land set aside for communal use by members of the Osage Indian tribe.

Joe Don Mashunkashey, Theodore Brunt, Frank Redcorn and Kenneth “KC” Bills are accused of misusing more than $800,000 in Osage Nation funds generated through leasing of a portion of the Village property as site for the Osage Casino in Pawhuska.

In formal charges brought Jan. 30 in Osage Nation Trial Court, the men are accused of mishandling the tribal funds during four years (from 2008 through mid-2012) when they served on the board that was entrusted with management responsibilities for the federally-reserved township property.

Osage Nation Attorney General Jeff Jones filed the tribal charges on Jan. 30, approximately six months after the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tulsa had declined involvement with the case. Jones said he asked federal authorities to look into the case because of the broad range of charges that would have been available to government prosecutors.

The Osage attorney said tribal court guidelines will only allow for the filing of misdemeanor charges in the case. Maximum penalty for a tribal conviction on embezzlement is one year in jail and a $1,000 fine, said Jones.

He added that officials from the Internal Revenue Service have expressed interest in matters related to the probe of operations at the village.

After the charges were announced, the four men were summoned to appear at the tribal court and respond to allegations made in the case affidavits.

Investigation of the five-man board was spawned from a 2012 audit conducted by the Osage Nation Office of Fiscal and Performance Review.

Findings of the tribal audit indicated that more than $50,000 connected to the casino property lease had been used to pay utility bills for Pawhuska Indian Village residents.

Among the residents alleged to have benefited from the utility service payments was Mashunkashey, who served as chairman of the five-man board.

A five-woman board was appointed last July to replace the five-man board and it has has since received an endorsement from eligible tribal voters.

Pawhuska Indian Village includes remnants of the original settlement that has existed since the tribe was removed from its diminished reserve in southeastern Kansas during the early 1870s. Similar Osage villages exist in Hominy and Grayhorse, near Fairfax. The properties are reserved for use by the tribal members.

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