Former Executive Director Of Choctaw Nation Sentenced To 144 Months, $577,000 Restitution For Theft, Money Laundering And Tax Fraud
MUSKOGEE, OKLAHOMA - The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, announced that JASON BRENT MERIDA, age 40, of Ft. Towson, Oklahoma, and former Executive Director of Construction for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma was sentenced on June 1, 2015 to a total of 144 months in the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for the following crimes:
Count One: Conspiracy to Commit Theft or Bribery of Programs Receiving Federal Funds; Sentence – 60 months in BOP, 2 years supervised release (SR), $100 Special Assessment (SA)
Count Two: Theft by an Employee or Officer of a Tribal Government Receiving Federal Funds; Sentence – 120 months in BOP, 2 years SR, $100 SA
Count Three: Theft by an Employee or Officer of a Tribal Government Receiving Federal Funds; Sentence – 120 months in BOP, 2 years SR, $100 SA
Count Five: Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering; Sentence – 24 months in BOP to run consecutively to Counts One, Two and Three, 2 years SR, $100 SA
Count Six: Tax Fraud; Sentence – 36 months in BOP, 1 year SR, $100 SA
Count Seven: Tax Fraud; Sentence – 36 months in BOP, 1 year SR, $100 SA
Merida was ordered to pay $545,000 in restitution to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and $32,149 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service. Merida was ordered to report to the Federal Bureau of Prisons no later than noon on July 13, 2015.
The charge arose from an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The defendant was indicted in February, 2014. The jury trial began with testimony on October 29, 2014 and concluded with closing arguments and jury deliberations on Thursday, November 20, 2014 with guilty verdicts.
The investigation of corruption at the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma began in 2010. The primary allegations of this investigation focused on the payment of bribes from steel contractor, Builders Steel Corporation, to officials at the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and executives of Flintco, LLC. Flintco, LLC had been hired by the Choctaw Nation to oversee the construction of the Durant Casino and other major construction projects from 2008 through 2010.
Testimony at the trial established that Merida, the former Executive Director of Construction for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, conspired to corruptly demand, solicit and receive cash, trips, a Cadillac Escalade, plumbing fixtures, cattle guards, and other things of value in excess of the $5,000 from subcontractors performing work on Choctaw Nation construction projects. The testimony also revealed Merida, in concert with others, submitted and approved false invoices from subcontractors allowing him to steal, embezzle and fraudulently convert in excess of $500,000 in funds from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma which were used to purchase items for Merida and others. The items included firearms, hunting equipment, hunting trips and furniture. Merida also willfully failed to report the proceeds of the fraud on his federal income taxes in 2009 and 2010.
Merida represents the eighth person to date to be convicted as part of this investigation and prosecution. Other defendants previously convicted and sentenced include:
1. Brent Alan Parsons – Brent Parsons, a former executive with Builders Steel Corporation was sentenced to 60 months in the Federal Bureau of Prisons on January 22, 2015. Brent Parsons was further ordered to pay $3,977,200.00 in restitution to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
2. Lauri Ann Parsons – Lauri Parsons, the former owner of Builders Steel Corporation was sentenced to 48 months in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Lauri Parsons was further ordered to pay $3,535,498.24 in restitution to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
3. James Winfield Stewart – Stewart, a former executive with Scott Rice, LLC, Builders Steel Corporation and current owner of L& M Furniture was sentenced to 21 months in the Federal Bureau of Prisons on January 21, 2015. Stewart was further ordered to pay $345,000.00 in restitution to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
4. Cordell Alan Bugg – Bugg, a former executive with Flintco, LLC was sentenced to 3 years probation with 8 months home detention on January 23, 2015.
5. Robert DeWayne Gifford – Gifford, a former executive with Flintco, LLC was sentenced to 48 months in the Federal Bureau of Prisons on April 9, 2015. Gifford was further ordered to pay $345,000.00 in restitution to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
6. Jerry Mark Eshenroder – Eshenroder, a former executive with Flintco, LLC, was sentenced to 3 years probation on January 23, 2015.
7. Mark Allen Franklin – Franklin, a former executive with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma was sentenced to 3 years probation on February 3, 2015.
The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, Mark Green, stated “The convictions of Mr. Merida and the other seven defendants are the result of a long and complicated investigation by a team of agents from the FBI and IRS. The investigation consumed hundreds of man hours and the agent’s dedication to the investigation was paramount in the successful prosecution of these individuals. The convictions and resulting sentences send a clear message to businessmen and tribal officials seeking to illegally profit at the expense of tribal members that their greed should not and will not be tolerated. My thanks go out to the investigators, the attorneys and staff who have made this prosecution successful!”
R. Damon Rowe, Special Agent-in-Charge for the IRS, stated “IRS Criminal Investigation stands by its commitment to ensure justice is brought to those who unlawfully abuse their positions of trust. The message in today’s sentencing remains clear: IRS will pursue and prosecute, to the fullest extent of the law, individuals who use corruption and coercion for personal gain. The victims in this case are not only the Citizens of the Choctaw Nation, but also the American Taxpayers who pay their fair share of taxes.”
James Finch, Special Agent-in-Charge for the FBI, stated “The FBI is committed to bringing to justice those entrusted to conduct government business, tribal or otherwise, who compromise that trust for their own personal gain. These sentences confirm there are consequences for individuals who misuse their position or seek to gain an unfair advantage with tribal government.”
The Honorable James H. Payne, Chief District Judge in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, in Muskogee, presided over the hearing.
First Assistant United States Attorney Doug Horn and Criminal Chief Chris Wilson represented the United States.