MUSKOGEE, OK - A former Choctaw Nation executive has been arraigned on federal charges and accused of accepting extravagant gifts from vendors involved in the construction of the new casino from 2008-2010.
A federal indictment released by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma states that from 2008 to 2010 then-Executive Director of Construction Administration, 41-year-old Jason Merida, co-conspired with several others involved in the construction of the new hotel and casino to create inflated invoices and bill the Choctaws for their personal gifts, getaways and transportation by private jet.
The indictment states Merida's gifts included a golf trip to Pebble Beach and big game hunting trips to New Mexico and Missouri. The total value of the alleged gifts is over half a million dollars and also includes a new Cadillac Escalade, $100,000 worth of Pushmataha County land and over $100,000 worth of firearms, all on the Choctaw's dime.
After conducting periodic audits, the Choctaw Nation noticed the error in the audits and released this statement in August of last year.
"The Choctaw Nation, as part of its normal business practices, conducts routine audits. One of these audits, relating to the construction of the Durant Hotel and Casino, revealed discrepancies relating to the purchase of steel from Builders Steel located in Tulsa Oklahoma. Chief Greg Pyle and Assistant Chief Gary Batton referred these audit results to legal counsel for the Nation."
The Nation went on to say that they have fully cooperated in the investigation and expect to be made whole with respect to any losses. Merida faces up to 15 years in federal prison if convicted.
News 12 tried to contact Merida today for comment, but we were unable to reach him. His trial is set for May.
The First Assistant United States Attorney tells News 12 that seven other co-conspirators have pleaded guilty.