Former Quapaw Nation Chair Booted from Election Race, Denies Embezzlement Charges

Posted on: June 14, 2021, 04:12h. 

Last updated on: June 14, 2021, 04:34h.

Former chairman of the Quapaw Nation John Berrey’s bid to regain political power lies in tatters today. That’s following the tribe’s decision to disqualify him from seeking re-election as tribal vice-president.

John Berrey
John Berrey has been accused of corruption and embezzlement and kicked out of the election process. He went on the offensive this week. (Image: Arkansas Business)

Berrey led the Nation for 20 years, presiding over its economic transformation into a major player in Oklahoma’s tribal gaming industry. But he faces criminal complaints in the Quapaw Tribal Court, where he is accused of multiple counts of conspiracy, theft, and abuse of office.

Last week, the Quapaw Nation Business Committee voted 6-1 to ban Berrey from the election race, declaring him “unsuitable for candidacy.”

‘Misspent Millions’

The tribe is wealthy. It owns two casinos on its reservation in Oklahoma, the Quapaw Casino, and the Downstream Casino Resort, as well as the Saracen Resort in Arkansas, its historical homeland. It also owns a golf course in Missouri.

But a forensic audit into the construction process of the Saracen discovered that $34 million in tribal funds may have been misspent on “pay raises, bonuses, severance pay, and donations.”

The auditors believe Berrey and the Nation’s former secretary treasurer, Tamara Smiley-Reeves, siphoned the money from the Development Authority without the approval of the Business Committee.

The Quapaw Tribal Gaming Authority instigated the audit after it began examining certain allegations against Berrey and others on social media regarding excessive bonuses paid to tribal leaders and casino executives.    

Accompanying the criminal complaint is a civil lawsuit that seeks $7 million, plus damages, from Berrey and several of his former staff members, claiming fraud and unjust enrichment.

He is also accused of treason against the Nation for filing since-abandoned defamation charges in a nontribal court related to the accusations against him.

‘Not About Me’

Berrey told The Joplin Globe the decision to boot him from the process proved the Business Committee was “terrified” that he might expose them, implying corruption.

He added that the Business Committee overruled the Election Committee in taking the decision, which was unprecedented.

“The real story is not John Berrey,” he claimed to the Globe. “The story is the destruction of the assets and businesses of the Quapaw Nation, and the wealth is being detoured to non-Indian lawyers, and the pain that’s being caused. It’s really hurting several families and people within the Nation.”

“I have not received any due process afforded to me by the US Constitution and the Indian Civil Rights Act. I just hope and pray that I can get a fair shake in court,” he added.