TULSA (AP) — Six people linked to the construction of a Choctaw Nation casino pleaded guilty to bribery charges, federal prosecutors announced Monday.
Five of the six people — Lauri Parsons, her husband Brent Parsons, Cordell Bugg, James Stewart, and Mark Eshenroder — owned or worked for companies that performed work or sold materials for the construction of the Durant casino, the U.S. attorney’s office for the eastern district of Oklahoma said. The other person, Allen Franklin, was a project manager for the tribe.
All six were charged with conspiracy to commit theft or bribery of programs that receive federal funds, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In addition, Brent Parsons was charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and Stewart was charged with money laundering. Each of those counts is punishable by up to 10 years behind bars.
According to prosecutors, the Parsons owned Builders Steel, a Tulsa company that sold steel to the tribe, and Stewart worked for the company. Bugg and Eshenroder worked for Flintco, a Tulsa-based construction management company hired by the tribe.
Attempts to locate their attorneys through court records were unsuccessful.
The Choctaw Nation said in a statement Monday that a routine audit relating to the casino project found discrepancies from the purchase of steel from Builders Steel, and eventually revealed the tribe had been overcharged for those purchases. The tribe said the matter was turned over to federal investigators.
“The Choctaw Nation expects to be made whole with respect to any losses,” the statement, which did not comment on former employee Franklin, said. “Since legal proceedings are presently ongoing, it is not appropriate for the nation to comment further at this time.
Flintco issued a statement Monday saying it regretted the harm caused to the Choctaws and disclosed that a third, unnamed former employee, was under investigation. It didn’t name the former worker, but said it was cooperating with the investigation.
“Our company recognizes the Choctaw Nation was adversely impacted by the actions of Builders Steel, who influenced former Flintco employees and others to commit certain wrongdoings,” the statement said. “Flintco sincerely regrets this isolated incident and the negative impact it has had on the Choctaw Nation.
“We highly value our relationship with the Choctaw Nation and our company’s Native American heritage. We will continue to cooperate with the government and the Choctaw Nation in any further investigation of persons involved.”
The indictments and federal officials laid out Monday specifically how the building firms and other subcontractors tried to defraud the tribe:
—Lauri and Brent Parsons agreed to provide more than $5,000 in trips, vehicles, firearms, furniture, tuition, mortgage payments and other gifts to employees of the Choctaw Nation and Flintco, among other items. The company used the influence “to obtain bidding preference, higher prices and huge cash advances for services and materials not delivered,” according to the government.
—Lauri and Brent Parsons and Stewart agreed to submit $345,000 in false invoices to the Choctaw Nation from Scott Rice — an office furniture company that Stewart worked for before he joined Builders Steel. The illegal proceeds were used to make a $25,000 deposit on an African safari and purchase firearms, furniture, and additional gifts.
— Brent Parsons submitted a false invoice from the Worth Group to the tribe. The Worth Group was the architectural firm that designed many of the Choctaw Nation’s casinos. The illegal proceeds were used to pay for $160,000 of trophy game killed by Brent Parsons at the Heartland Wildlife Ranch in Missouri.
— Eshenroder agreed to provide more than $5,000 in building materials to remodel Franklin’s kitchen, in order to influence business with the Choctaw Nation.