|The St. Petersburg Times reports that lawyers defending Seminole tribe members Timmy Cox, Dan Wisher, and Michael Crumpton against charges of embezzlement said their clients are “loyal workers, not thieves” and had simply “followed orders” from ex-Chairman James E. Billie to “secretly wire tribal cash first to Belize and then to Nicaragua.” The lawyers claimed their clients were so funneling the money, nearly $3,000,000, in order to establish an Internet gambling site on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. The online casino project was rejected by other tribal leaders late in 1997. |
Billie had then been reportedly very keen on the project, and an unidentified “outside consultant” had reportedly made the prediction that an initial investment of $4.7 million would result in a “net profit of as much as $706 million in three years.”
Speaking for the others in the tribal council, General Counsel Jim Shore rejected the idea as the tribe, they reasoned, was already doing well with off line bingo, poker, and video gambling machines in their four casinos positioned around the state. The Internet casino idea, they felt, was too risky.
The defense lawyers asserted that Billie went ahead with the online plan in secret, drawing into his confidence his three co-defendants, who were essential in taking millions of dollars out of the tribe’s revenues from their established casino business and sending it abroad, where Billie was running the launch of the operation.
However, the U.S. government charges that the three co-defendants “siphoned $2.77 million out of the tribe's investment account in the spring of 2000, which they funnelled to a shell corporation in Belize called Virtual Data.” They are charged with conspiracy, embezzlement, money laundering and making false statements to federal investigators and if convicted on all charges, each could face terms of 90 to 115 years in a federal prison.
Billie was the object of a investigation by a federal task force which began over three years ago. Chairman Shore led the ousting of Billie, fired Cox and Wisher, and last year as well began a “program of tribal reform.”