Former Quapaw Nation Lawyer Facing Criminal Charges Over Saracen Casino Funds

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A former lawyer for Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, has been charged by a federal special prosecutor with allegedly stealing $513,000 from the casino disguised as bonus compensation.

Jack Brill, 54, originally of Neosho, Missouri, is also accused of embezzling more than $2.3 million, along with officials who were then involved with the casino’s owners, the Quapaw Nation tribe. That includes the tribe’s former chairman, John Berrey.

The Nation opened a civil lawsuit in 2021, and also a criminal investigation in its own tribal court.

However, now federal prosecutors have gotten involved. Special Prosecutor Douglas G. Dry was named in court filings shared by the Arkansas Times last week.

Downstream Development

The $350 million Saracen Casino Resort opened in 2019 as the first purpose-built casino in Arkansas. Its development and operation were partly managed by Quapaw’s Downstream Development Authority, or DDA. Brill was a board member.

However, during the construction process, the casino and its management’s finances were audited following a tip-off from an anonymous whistleblower.

The initial investigation found more than $34 million may have been misspent on “pay raises, bonuses, severance pay, and donations.”

Other officials involved in the DDA were named in the court filings, including Berrey, the now-deceased former CFO Merlin Jones, and former secretary and treasurer Tamara Smiley-Reeves.

Berrey, who was chairman of the Quapaw Nation for 20 years, has denied the allegations since they first surfaced in 2021.

“The latest events are just more efforts to defame,” he said at the time. “This is all politically motivated and it’s false.”

He countersued the Nation for libel shortly after and announced his intention to retry for office.

“I’ll beat it in court, and I’ll return to the business committee for the good of our people,” he said.

Personal Benefit

However, the Nation’s new leadership clearly sees the case as clear cut.

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,” a 2021 press release from the tribe said.

The Nation is seeking $7 million in damages in the civil lawsuit, as well as criminal charges. Five counts of embezzlement, offense by officers, and conspiracy to embezzle are shared among the accused.

Brill, who is named on all five counts, could face a total of up to 15 years in prison and a $750,000 fine if found guilty on all of them.

One of the accused named in the new criminal complaint is no longer part of the lawsuit part of the case. Janet Cummings, former manager of the Downstream Casino in Oklahoma, settled out of court for an undisclosed fee last year.

No trial date has yet been set for those accused of embezzling the Nation’s funds in the criminal case.

The Quapaw Nation owns three casinos, including The Saracen Casino Resort. The two others, Quapaw Casino and Downstream Casino Resort, are on its reservation land in Oklahoma. It also operates the 18-hole Eagle Creek Golf Course and Resort in Loma Linda, Missouri.

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