Couple Denies Embezzling from Tribe’s California Casino, $38M Suit Seeks RICO Damages

Posted on: October 26, 2020, 02:00h. 

Last updated on: October 26, 2020, 01:44h.

A couple who allegedly “skimmed” $2.9 million from the Gold Country Casino Resort near Oroville, Calif. is being sued for $38 million by the tribe that owns the property, The Sacramento Bee reports.

Gold Country Casino
The Gold Country Casino Resort is owned by the Berry Creek Rancheria. The tribes says two former officials “misappropriated funds on a grand scale.” (Image: Berry Creek Rancheria)

In a lawsuit filed last Thursday in Sacramento federal court, the Berry Creek Rancheria of Maidu Indians claim the tribe’s former CFO, Deborah Howard, and tribal administrator Jesse Brown blew the money on tickets to Disneyland, an Elton John concert, and WrestleMania XXX, among other things.

The couple, who have since married, were aided by the use of “a secret credit card,” as well as by laundering money from the tribal smoke shop, according to the lawsuit. It also alleges they falsified casino payroll records to provide themselves with “unauthorized payroll distributions.”

The couple is also accused of taking $200,000 in cash withdrawals over five years from a fund that was supposed to provide Christmas presents to tribal children.

Fraud, Money Laundering Charges

The suit alleges fraud and money laundering racketeering. It seeks damages for the $2.9 million it claims the couple stole, plus more than $26 million in punitive damages and more than $8.8 million in Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) damages.

“This course of conduct went on for years, involved thousands of individual (transactions), and was only discovered long after Ms. Howard and Mr. Brown’s departures from the tribe in 2017, when the bank finally disclosed the existence of the aforesaid credit card (after first informing the Berry Creek Tribal Council that its members could not access the account because Ms. Howard and Mr. Brown were the only authorized individuals),” the lawsuit says.

The couple “entered into a discreet personal relationship and used their resultant joint power to supervise both the finances and business affairs of the Tribe to carry out a scheme centered around misappropriating tribal assets on a grand scale,” it continues.

Couple Denies Accusations 

When contacted by The Bee by telephone, Howard described the allegations as “absolutely ridiculous,” adding that she and her husband “absolutely not, did not steal even one dime.”

And it wasn’t a secret credit card at all,” Brown said. “In his position, the tribal administrator always had a credit card, and all the expenses that were charged on the credit card were always approved by the council.”

Last year, three former officials of another California tribal operator, the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians, pleaded guilty to the embezzlement of $6 million from the Rolling Hills Casino near Corning.

Former FBI officer John Crosby, his mother Ines Crosby, and her sister, Leslie Lohse, were described as going on a “12-year looting spree” with the casino’s coffers. They used the money to charter private jets, go to the World Series, and buy a luxury car and precious metals.