Former Quapaw Nation Lawyer Charged with $500K Saracen Casino Theft

Posted on: June 13, 2023, 06:24h. 

Last updated on: June 13, 2023, 12:50h.

Federal prosecutors have charged a former lawyer for the Quapaw Nation with the embezzlement of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the tribe’s Saracen Casino in Pine Bluff, Ark.

Former Quapaw Chairman John Berrey
Former Quapaw Chairman John Berrey, above, shows plans for the Saracen Casino in December 2019. Its construction became the subject of a forensic audit that led to charges against Berrey and others. (Image: Fort Smith Times Record)

Jack Brill was a board member of the Nation’s Downstream Development Authority when he allegedly diverted $513K from the casino in March and June 2020, disguising the money as bonus compensation. A month later, he attempted to steal another $128,K, according to the criminal complaint.

Brill is also accused of conspiring with other tribal officials, including former Quapaw chairman John Berrey, to redistribute some $2.3 million of the tribes’ money among themselves.

Berrey Accusations

The Quapaw Nation announced charges against Berrey, former chief financial officer Merlin Kent Jones, and former treasurer Tamara Smiley-Reeves in April 2021.

Until he was unseated in 2021, Berrey was the tribe’s leader for 20 years and oversaw much of its economic development. But he “consistently abused his authority as chairman by using tribal funds and assets for his own personal benefit and the benefit of those around him,” according to a statement from the tribe that accompanied those charges.

Commenting on the new charges against Brill, the tribe said, “These charges are an extension of the original charges filed in Quapaw Nation Tribal Court in 2021. All of the parties mentioned are no longer associated with Saracen or the leadership of the Quapaw Nation.”

The tribe has also filed a civil lawsuit that seeks $7 million, plus damages, from Berrey and his co-defendants, claiming fraud and unjust enrichment. Berrey has countersued for libel.

Despite his predicament, Berrey has announced he intends to run for chairman again. It’s unclear whether the Quapaw Election Committee will try to ban him from doing so.

“I just want to help out!” he told Oklahoma TV station KSN-16 in April.

Whistleblower Complaint

The Quapaw Nation is wealthy, owning two casinos on its reservation in Oklahoma, the Quapaw Casino and the Downstream Casino Resort. It also owns a golf resort in Missouri.

 The $350 million Saracen Resort became the first purpose-built casino in Arkansas when it opened in Pine Bluff in 2019.

Following an investigation, an audit concluded that $34 million may have been misspent on “pay raises, bonuses, severance pay, and donations.”