UPDATED: Quapaw Nation accuses deposed leaders of theft of funds, abuse of office

Jeff Lehr, The Joplin Globe, Mo.
·3 min read

Apr. 20—MIAMI, Okla. — The Quapaw Nation of Oklahoma has filed criminal complaints against its former chairman and board secretary, charging embezzlement and misuse of tribal funds.

Criminal complaints filed Friday in Quapaw Tribal Court in Miami accuse longtime Chairman John L. Berrey, 62, and former Secretary-Treasurer Tamara Smiley-Reeves, 49, with multiple counts of conspiracy, theft and abuse of office.

Probable-cause affidavits and an accompanying civil court action implicate as many as seven other tribal officials and executives of casino operations in Oklahoma and Arkansas in conspiracies and thefts. The tribe is seeking $7 million in damages from the defendants.

"It's an ongoing investigation, and I anticipate additional charges being filed," Douglas Dry, special prosecutor, told the Globe.

Berrey, who lost his position as tribal chairman in an election last July, faces 11 criminal counts. Smiley-Reeves, who was ousted in the same election, is charged with seven counts.

Berrey issued a written response Monday in which he accused his successor, Chairman Joseph Byrd, and new Secretary-Treasurer Guy Barker, of carrying on "a scorched earth campaign of grievances and false accusations."

"It's all made up, and it is strictly political," Berrey said in the prepared statement. "It shouldn't even be aired out in the general news media like they're doing. It just hurts the tribal members."

He further vowed to "prove them wrong" in court and to continue his bid to return to office "so I can begin to bring our people together again and heal the Quapaw Nation."

According to the documents filed in court, the Quapaw Nation Gaming Authority initiated an investigation in June 2020 in response to allegations of improper bonuses being paid to tribal leaders and casino executives that were being posted on the tribal Facebook page Everything Quapaw. A former tribal leader posted a letter on the page alleging that improper bonuses were being paid.

The consulting firm Innovative Gaming Solutions was asked to conduct an internal audit that began prior to the July 25 election but was suspended for a few days until election results were known.

When the audit resumed July 29, IGS purportedly learned that Berrey, Smiley-Reeves and other tribal leaders and casino executives met two days after the election and allegedly conspired to issue unauthorized checks to each other totaling more than $1.3 million, according the affidavit.

More than $535,000 of the money was directed into Berrey's personal bank account under the claim of being severance pay and compensation for unused paid time off, according to the complaint. He further directed that the remainder go to Smiley-Reeves and three other co-conspirators.

That particular allegation forms the basis for a count of attempted embezzlement, one of two conspiracy counts, one of two counts of abuse of office and a count of offense by officers filed on the former chairman.

There are additional conspiracy, embezzlement and abuse of office counts pertaining to $4 million in improper bonuses purportedly paid to Berrey, Smiley-Reeves and others in recent years.

The affidavit further states that Berrey used funds from Downstream Casino Resort and the Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, as well as casino credit cards to pay for tickets to concerts and sporting events, airfare, gifts and spa treatments for himself, family members and others.

There also is a count alleging that Berrey approved an unlawful gift of a Rolex watch to a contractor in the Saracen Casino Resort project that was paid for with tribal funds.