California Casino Files $38m Fraud, Money Laundering Lawsuit Against Former Execs

  • Tribal owners of Gold Country Casino Resort filed the lawsuit in federal court on October 22
  • Berry Creek Rancheria of Maidu Indians is seeking alleged actual losses of over $2.9m
  • The tribe is also seeking over $26m in punitive damages and more than $8.8m in other damages
  • The suit claims the defendants laundered money to pay for trips to Las Vegas
Closeup map of Oroville, California
Tribal owners of Gold Country Casino resort in Oroville, CA, filed a $38m lawsuit in Sacramento federal court last week, claiming two of its former employees skimmed off $1m. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Allegedly skimmed over $1m

Tribal owners of a California casino have filed a fraud and money laundering lawsuit in Sacramento federal court, claiming that two of its former senior employees skimmed over $1m for expenses and personal trips.

The Sacramento Bee reported that the Berry Creek Rancheria of Maidu Indians – owners of Gold Country Casino Resort in Oroville – said that while actual losses are over $2.9m, it is also seeking more than $26m in punitive damages and over $8.8m in Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organization damages.

The complaint, filed on October 22, alleges former chief financial officer Deborah Howard and ex-tribal administrator Jesse Brown embezzled over $1m in a scheme involving a “secret credit card.” The suit also claims that the two laundered money from the tribal smoke shop to pay for trips to Las Vegas and Disneyland, including flights, concert tickets, and limousine rentals.

a scheme centered around misappropriating tribal assets on a grand scale”

The suit claims the two “entered into a discreet personal relationship and used their resultant joint power to supervise both the finances and business affairs of the Tribe to carry out a scheme centered around misappropriating tribal assets on a grand scale.”

The alleged scheme ran from 2011 through 2016. The couple has since married.

Elton John, Bellagio, NBA, UFC, WWE. . .  

According to The Sacramento Bee, the lawsuit said: “This complaint could devote countless paragraphs to detailing all of the other fraudulent charges”.

One of the expenses the tribe alleges as improper includes $16,339.81 spent at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in June 2014, with over $1,000 spent on tickets for an Elton John concert that same month.

If the claims are true, it would seem Brown and Howard also had a penchant for contact sports. Listed in the suit are alleged expenses including $4,818.50 on WWE WrestleMania tickets, $4,174.30 on UFC tickets, and $1,730 on Sacramento Kings basketball tickets.

The lawsuit also claims the pair were “skimming more than $1.1m of cash receipts from the Smoke Shop operated by Berry Creek before depositing the remainder of the funds into the tribe’s bank account. The two also allegedly manipulated payroll records to avail themselves of $250k in ‘unauthorized payroll distributions.’”

The couple also allegedly helped themselves to more than $200k “in cash withdrawals over the course of five holiday seasons that were meant to provide Christmas gifts to tribal youth.”

Brown says claims “absolutely ridiculous”

In a telephone interview, Deborah Brown denied the allegations, saying they were “absolutely ridiculous.” Brown said: “And it wasn’t a secret credit card at all. In his position, the tribal administrator always had a credit card and all the expenses that were charged on the credit card were always approved by the council.”

The Berry Creek tribe said although the couple left their jobs in 2017, the alleged fraud came to light only “by chance” following an annual audit of the tribe’s 2016 business transactions. The lawsuit took time to file because the tribe “encountered significant difficulties” accessing bank details, as the pair allegedly gave themselves sole account authorization on the credit card.