Three people who once served as the economic development director, administrator and treasurer of a California Native American tribe have admitted embezzling more than $4.9 million from a casino operated by the tribe. The 56-year-old man, 76-year-old woman and 64-year-old woman entered guilty pleas to conspiracy to steal or embezzle from a tribal organization on Aug. 15. The man also admitted to filing a false tax return and the 64-year-old woman admitted to failing to file a tax return.
The group was indicted in 2017 following an investigation into improprieties at the Rolling Hills Casino near Sacramento. The casino, which generates approximately $100 million each year, is operated by the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians. According to media reports, the money embezzled by the group was used to fund their lavish lifestyles and purchase items including gold coins, jewelry, designer handbags and luxury cars. The group is also said to have taken trips including a World Series excursion and a vacation in Hawaii.
Sentencing in the case is scheduled to take place in January. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The group could also be ordered to make restitution to the tribe and pay approximately $1.6 million in unpaid taxes.
Cases such as this one rarely reach a courtroom because the most important pieces of evidence are usually documents that could be difficult or impossible to dispute. However, facts like these reveal that prosecutors may be willing to enter into negotiated plea agreements with individuals charged with embezzlement schemes even when their chances of prevailing in court seem extremely good. During plea negotiations, experienced criminal defense attorneys may remind prosecutors that arguing before a jury always carries at least some risk.