Quapaw Nation Charges Former Chairman Berrey with Embezzlement

Posted on: April 20, 2021, 07:05h. 

Last updated on: April 20, 2021, 10:25h.

The Quapaw Nation of Oklahoma filed criminal charges on Monday against its former chairman.

John Berrey, seen in the photo above, inspects the construction site of the Saracen casino, which opened its first phase in Pine Bluff, Ark. in 2019. (Arkansas Online)

The Nation is accusing John L Berrey in the tribal court of embezzlement and other crimes. 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.

Berrey “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 news release from the tribe.

As the Nation’s leader for 20 years, Berrey oversaw much of its economic development. The tribe is wealthy, owning two casinos on its reservation in Oklahoma, the Quapaw Casino, and the Downstream Casino Resort, as well as a golf resort in Missouri.

A third casino, the Saracen Resort, became the first purpose-built casino in Arkansas when it opened in Pine Bluff in 2019.

$34 Million ‘Misspent’

The $350 million Saracen construction process recently became the subject of a forensic audit following a whistleblower’s complaint. Auditors discovered that $34 million in tribal funds may have been misspent on “pay raises, bonuses, severance pay, and donations.”

According to the auditors, both Berrey and the Nation’s former secretary treasurer, Tamara Smiley-Reeves, siphoned the money from the Downstream Development Authority without the approval of the tribal business committee, a violation of the tribe’s code.

The complaints outline various levels of involvement and collaboration between the individuals to pay one another illegal bonuses totaling millions of dollars and illegally increase base pay and benefits,” the tribe claimed in its news release.

“The investigation also found deliberate attempts to conceal the unlawful behavior by either omitting information from official meeting minutes or keeping information in official tribal records intentionally vague.”

Berrey Countersues for Libel

Berrey failed to get re-elected as tribal chairman last July. He denies allegations of wrongdoing, and on Monday filed a lawsuit in Cleveland County District County accusing current Quapaw Nation officials of libel.

In a comment to Arkansas Business, he criticized the news release sent out Monday.

“It’s awkward that the people who brought this complaint want it to be out in the broader public,” Berrey said.

There’s a way to address complaints in the tribal government and that’s where it ought to stay. This is all politically motivated and it’s false.”

“My number one goal now is to allay the fears and anxiety that our tribal members are feeling over all of this nonsense,” he added. “I’ll beat it in court, and I’ll return to the Business Committee for the good of our people.”

Berrey said he is planning to run for vice chairman this summer.