Oklahoma Cherokee tribe leader removed for financial violations

Reuters News
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Posted: May 25, 2016 5:51 PM

By Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (Reuters) - An Oklahoma Cherokee tribe has removed its three-term chief after financial irregularities led to accusations that he had, among other things, taken money out the tribe's higher education fund and used the tribe's credit card for personal use.

The tribal council of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians voted 7-4 late on Tuesday night to remove Principal Chief George Wickliffe from office after finding him guilty of violating the tribe's constitution.

The council also barred him for life from holding an elected or appointed position within the tribe.

Along with signing off on multiple contracts without council approval, Wickliffe stood accused of making unauthorized disbursements and cash advances out of the tribe's general fund to select council members, giving himself $5,000 in scholarship funds after the tribe curtailed its higher education program, using the tribe's credit card for his own personal use and blocking the tribe's treasurer from having full access to financial records.

Wickliffe has seven days to file an appeal with the tribe's judiciary.

Elected to his third four-year term in November 2012, the now-former chief told a standing-room only crowd during the meeting on Tuesday that he could not be entirely blamed for the tribe's financial straits since its casino closed in 2013.

"I don't owe the tribe anything," he said, eliciting jeers from the audience. "Neither does the council."

Escorted by tribal police officers, Wickliffe did not speak to reporters after the hearing.

The tribe, which has about 14,000 enrolled citizens, is headquartered in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, about 65 miles (104 km)east of Tulsa.

(Editing by Karen Brooks and Sandra Maler)