By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
The governing body of the Seminole Tribe of Florida is attempting to banish two tribal women in retaliation for talking to Florida Bulldog about allegations of corruption by Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr.
The Tribal Council wants to disenroll a third member of the tribe, too, for writing an article “to expose Tribal Council corruption, self-enrichment and abuse of power” that was published in a Native American newspaper not controlled by the Seminoles.
In an apparently interim step, on Dec. 13 the five-member council instead passed a resolution by a 3-2 vote that banned the trio from entering any tribal government buildings or schools for 60 days, sources said. The next council meeting is set for 10 a.m. on Jan. 20 in the Hollywood Auditorium on the tribe’s reservation. Only tribal members are allowed to attend or watch online via Cisco Webex Meetings.
At the same time, the Tribal Council is suppressing information about the steps it is taking against the three. For example, it has barred the tribal clerk from releasing the minutes of its Dec. 13 special meeting at which the last-minute, non-agenda resolution about the expulsions was discussed.
Indeed, Clerk Jacob Ramos has stated the council has “put a hold on all record requests received by the clerk’s office. I’ve been advised you must make your request directly to the Tribal Council.”
SEMINOLE TRIBE COUNCIL SUPPRESSING RECORDS
The council’s action, which appears in conflict with the spirit of openness expressed in the Seminole’s Amended Constitution and Bylaws, is akin to county or city commissioners halting all public-records requests until they are run past them.
The two women targeted by Chairman Osceola are cousins, Laura and Lesley Billie. The women were quoted by in a Dec. 4 Florida Bulldog story questioning the tribe’s “Shot of a Lifetime”
program that used federal COVID funds to stage a high-stakes raffle that sought to motivate tribal members to get vaccinated.
The story included an assertion contained in a recall petition against Osceola, written by Laura Billie, that “tribal members also have knowledge that the Chairman’s illegitimate son, who is a minor, was the [raffle’s] million-dollar winner.” The winners’ names were not made public, but Osceola has denied that his son won the million-dollar prize.
Two days after the story was published, Osceola sent a letter to Laura Billie ordering her to stop talking to “off-reservation media.”
“We have recently become aware that you have been in contact with an off-reservation media outlet wherein false and unsubstantiated allegations against the Seminole Tribe and its officials were published,” the Dec. 6 letter says. “The ramifications are serious and can possibly jeopardize the welfare of the Seminole Tribe and its Members. We will not stand idly by and let such actions continue. You are to cease and desist in contacting off-reservation media outlets for the purpose of making any unsubstantiated and false allegations. Be governed accordingly.”
Clerk Ramos disclosed the council’s hold on all record requests two weeks later.
LAURA BILLIE PUSHES BACK
Lesley Billie did not receive such a letter. Laura Billie immediately responded by email by asking why Osceola “targeted me alone,” adding that the Florida Bulldog story “presented facts” and “doesn’t involve any crime or false allegations.”
“Why did the Tribal Council (notify) tribal members about tribal member contacts with the news media as jeopardizing gaming funds and per capita payments (to members)? What ramifications are serious and can possibly jeopardize the welfare of tribal members?”
“I’m not a lawyer, but I know this letter represents a violation of my constitutional rights as a U.S. Citizen and a member of a federally recognized tribe with Constitutional rights,” she wrote.
Virgil “Benny” Motlow, who lives in Hendry County near Immokalee, wrote the Nov. 17 article headlined “Corruption on Seminole Reservation” in the Native Sun News.He’s been calling out wrongdoing by tribal government officials for years and apparently went elsewhere for some publicity because the local monthly Seminole Tribune is controlled by the Tribal Council.
Motlow declined to be interviewed. But Florida Bulldog has obtained from others a copy of an email message he sent to Chairman Osceola on Dec. 11, two days before the council meeting:
“Tribal wide conversation says you & [council members] Chris [Osceola] and Larry [Howard] are working to punish me by removing me from tribal enrollment…You three representatives want to do this to me for writing to Native Sun News in reference to what is very true in describing representatives or former representatives making profits from gaming agreements or contracts, like what’s happening as I write.”
OSCEOLA LED CHARGE TO PUNISH TRIO
Motlow also has challenged Marcellus Osceola and the Tribal Council to disprove his allegations of self-enrichment by making public “financial disclosure of income & other sources of income, like income from Seminole gaming contracts,” for current and former tribal council members and their family members.
The initial resolutions to exile Laura and Lesley Billie and Motlow were introduced by Chairman Osceola, according to meeting witnesses. Each was identified only by their initials, but Florida Bulldog has confirmed their names.
Marcellus Osceola, Chris Osceola and Larry Howard ultimately voted to ban the Billies and Motlow from the tribe’s public buildings for 60 days. Council members Mariann Billie, a distant relative of Laura and Lesley Billie, and Mitchell Cypress voted against the ban.
Mariann Billie declined to comment. Cypress did not respond to a voicemail message requesting comment. Marcellus Osceola likewise did not respond to a voicemail message requesting comment.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida has approximately 4,300 registered members. A decision by the council to strip a Seminole of his or her membership would have serious financial and other consequences for the expelled.
Most immediately, the tribe could stop providing monthly checks of $10,500 that every member receives as a dividend from the tribe’s casino gambling profits. It could also mean the loss of freedom to live or travel on any of the Seminoles’ Hollywood, Big Cypress, Brighton, Immokalee, Fort Pierce and Tampa reservations.
Fred Tabor / January 1, 2023 8:10 am
I’m no expert on US law regarding Indians (although I do know enough to know that Indian is a defined term in the law) or tribal law, but going down this road seems desperate. Being part of a tribe is dependent not on blood/birth but on the whim of leaders? Doesn’t that undermine the entire basis for reservations and autonomy?
Natural-born U.S. citizens cannot have their citizenship revoked but apparently natural-born tribal citizens can. I imagine many looking to destroy tribes to get their land would love to see this erosion of tribal status protection. The Kochs come to mind.
Guy in the know / January 1, 2023 12:27 pm
Osceola is totally corrupt. For example, he has been essentially requiring contractors to enter into 50/50 joint ventures with his personal company in order to get any construction contracts for work done on reservations, which contracts require tribal council approval.
Chief Highbrow / January 2, 2023 12:07 pm
Why do the Seminoles continue to be given preferential tax treatment? How can the United States continue to permit this jurisdictional fiction that the Seminole Tribe of Florida can commit crimes which violate our US federal laws? This appears to have been a corrupt, illegal act which alo happens to be a form of tax evasion and money laundering. As usual, the FBI is asleep at the wheel. It is time to end the jurisdictional fiction of sovereign immunity.