Current and Former Omaha Tribal Council Members and Employees Indicted
United States Attorney Deborah R. Gilg announced today that the federal grand jury has returned a twenty count indictment charging nine people with various offenses. Eight are current or former members of the Omaha Tribal Council and one is a current employee of the tribe. Jessica Webster-Valentino (age 46), Barbara Freemont (age 64), Amen Sheridan (age 55), Rodney Morris (age 62), Doran Morris, Jr. (age 45), Forrest Aldrich (age 66), Mitchell Parker (age 68), Tillie Aldrich (age 47), and Jeff Miller (age 52) were each charged with conspiracy, conversion and misapplication of funds from a program receiving Federal funds, and conversion and misapplication of funds of a health care benefit program. An arraignment date for each of the defendants will be set by the Clerk of the District Court, but the hearings are anticipated to be in late October.
A conspiracy conviction is punishable by up to five years of imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine. A conviction for conversion or misapplication of funds from a program receiving Federal funds is punishable by up to ten years of imprisonment and /or a $250,000 fine. A conviction for conversion or misapplication of funds of a health care benefit program is punishable by up to ten years of imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine.
According to the Indictment, the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska had filed Contract Disputes Act claims against the Indian Health Service, an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. These claims were filed in 2005 and 2012 and concerned unpaid contract support costs covering the period of 1995-2011. The total amount of the claims was approximately $8.9 million. The Indictment alleges that the defendants converted and misapplied $388,792.44 by causing the issuance of bonuses or incentives to themselves and several other tribal employees on account of the claim filings. These bonuses or incentives were paid in October of 2012 even though the claims against the Indian Health Service were not resolved and paid until late 2015. Funds used to pay the bonuses came from carryover funds from the fiscal year 2012 contract with IHS. These funds were supposed to be used for providing health care to members of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska through the Carl T. Curtis Health Education Center. The indictment alleges that Jessica Webster-Valentino and Barbara Freemont each received bonuses of $89,692.92, while Amen Sheridan, Rodney Morris, Doran Morris, Jr., Forrest Aldrich, Mitchell Parker, Tillie Aldrich, and Jeff Miller, as tribal council members, each received bonuses of $13,404.44.
Webster-Valentino and Freemont are charged with conspiring together to obtain money to which they were not entitled. The Indictment alleges Webster-Valentino and Freemont: (a) directly and indirectly misrepresented the level of their involvement in the preparation of the claims submitted to IHS for unpaid contract support costs; (b) made a proposal to the tribal council for authorization of unreasonable bonus or incentive payments in the amount of $89,362.92 to be paid to each of them and which proposal also included unreasonable bonus amounts to be paid to members of the tribal council in order to induce the council to approve the proposal; (c) caused checks to be prepared and issued in-house from the Carl T. Curtis Health Education Center account without going through the normal review and issuance procedure the Omaha Tribe had established with the accounting firm of Bland& Associates; and (d) caused or allowed checks to be distributed and cashed prior to tribal council approval being obtained for the aforesaid bonus or incentive proposal. The Indictment further alleges that Webster-Valentino and Freemont exchanged emails discussing what bonus amounts to propose, and that in one such email Freemont suggested increasing the amounts to be paid to the tribal council members and indicated her belief that the tribal council would not complain about the payments to Webster-Valentino and Freemont if the tribal council members got a little more for themselves.
Amen Sheridan, Rodney Morris, Doran Morris, Jr., Forrest Aldrich, Mitchell Parker, Tillie Aldrich, and Jeff Miller are charged with conspiring together to obtain money to which they were not entitled. The Indictment alleges the payments to these defendants: (a) were not regular tribally approved salary payments; (b) were unreasonable in amount; (c) were unearned; (d) were not in compliance with the provisions of Omaha Tribe of Nebraska Resolution 09-19-A; (e) were prematurely paid; (f) were not related to the purposes for which funds were to be used pursuant to the IHS contract; and (g) were otherwise contrary to the provisions of OMB Circular A-87.
The Indictment further alleges that on November 5, 2012, the same date when the tribal council approved the bonuses described above, the tribal council passed a second motion to pay a bonus of $7,500 apiece to former tribal council members dating back to 1994 for their purported oversight of the Contract Disputes Act issue. This motion would have provided an additional payment of $7,500 to Amen Sheridan, Rodney Morris, Doran Morris, Jr., Forrest Aldrich, Mitchell Parker, Tillie Aldrich, and Jeff Miller as they were each members of past tribal council. However, the indictment alleges these amounts were not paid because Webster-Valentino refused to permit funds of the Carl T. Curtis Health Center to be used for this purpose.
In addition to the conspiracy charges, the Indictment charges each of the defendants in separate counts with substantive acts of: (a) converting or misapplying funds from a program receiving federal funds; and (b) converting and misapplying funds of a health care benefit program.
“These individuals used their elected positions to enrich themselves by betraying the trust of their peers. The FBI Omaha Division will remain steadfast in aggressively investigating those responsible for perpetrating schemes like this,” said Randall C. Thysse, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Omaha Division.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services.