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Ex-Kickapoo treasurer says tribal government is corrupt

LAWRENCE, Kan. - Jimmy Cisneros, former Kickapoo gaming commissioner and tribal treasurer, accuses tribal officials of maintaining an atmosphere for money laundering, misuse of casino revenues and racketeering.

He has conferred with congressional representatives and with the FBI, hoping to prompt a full-scale investigation into suspect practices at the tribal casino and within the tribal council.

Although his normal profession is a banker, he said he still hopes to return to his job as the tribal treasurer for the Kickapoo Tribe.

Some years ago he worked as banker in California, it seems like another lifetime instead of only three years ago, he said.

Cisneros had accepted a position with West America bank in 1998, when he began getting requests to return and work for the tribe. Cisneros heeded the call and returned.

He said that in 1998, as gaming commissioner, he began to investigate what appeared to be kickbacks and possible money laundering schemes. At the time, he worked with the tribe's comptroller who, he says, ceased being cooperative after a visit from a tribal council member.

"She was given a $10,000 increase in salary, which is a pretty darn good increase. She has been kind of hushing up lately, but the FBI did speak with her from what I understand. They kind of thought she gave them a fluffy kind of a story, like everything is hunky dory."

Cisneros insisted all he wanted to do was to clean things up.

"Things were being purchased and then supposedly being returned. When we looked over the inventory of the casino, those little things showed up. We would have an invoice for equipment and someone would have written on there, 'Send back.' If the money was returned, it never came back to the casino. The equipment was never delivered to the casino. There were false invoices."

Cisneros also said that one employee, who brought the matter to the attention of his supervisors, was fired after questioning invoices totaling $400,000 for equipment that couldn't be found during a year-end inventory.

"We were getting into things they were uncomfortable about," Cisneros said. "Food was walking out the door of the restaurant. It was even being ordered to feed the tribal council members and their families and restaurant managers - just unbelievable stuff."

Cisneros soon found himself under investigation by the gaming commission for abuse of power and conflict of interest. He maintains he had the right to investigate the matters he had been working on, but the tribal council disagreed and he was fired.

"They never detailed or gave a description of it," Cisneros said. "My attorneys laughed about it and went to the council and showed them that I did have the right." He was fired anyway.

Cisneros claims he was fired from the gaming commission in 1998 because he uncovered a system he believes is open to organized crime and money laundering.

He ran for and was elected as a member of the tribal council. He was then appointed as the treasurer. His victory was short-lived however, he was removed from the council by the same council members who had terminated him as gaming commissioner - because of a lawsuit he had pending against them.

When newly elected Chairman Steve Cadue and Vice Chairwoman Thelma Simon backed Cisneros and protested his removal from the council, their protests led to their eventual removal as well.

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All three continued to fight their removal from office, and say that the heart of the matter is the dismissal of Cisneros. Both Cadue and Simon say Cisneros was removed illegally, in violation of the Kickapoo constitution.

Cisneros continues to wait for a court date. He alleges the tribal court is refusing to set a date because of damaging information he will present regarding the lack of an accounting system and internal controls within the tribe and its casino.

He said he will tell his story to federal officials and has told congressional aides that the potential for organized crime is present because of a lack of checks and balances within the tribal government.

"Here is a good example," he said. "Let's say these people involved with ... were involved with organized crime and so forth. The potential is there. So they come in and say, 'We need to launder this money.' So they run that money through the accounting room and it looks like, well, the casino is doing really well.

"All the tribe has to do at that point is to call out and say, 'Hey, we need a check for 2.5 million dollars.' Those monies are sent down and these people cash those checks and it looks legitimate. They make deposits in their banks and it looks like a legitimate transaction. In actuality it's not. Basically it is just like laundering money because the comptroller hasn't received supporting documentation. The monies are not accounted for.

"It could be a laundering scheme," Cisneros added. "We're not saying it is, but the potential is there."

Cisneros said he was so concerned about the vulnerability of the tribe's finances he spoke to the FBI and U.S. Attorney's office regarding his findings while working as gaming commissioner. He pointed to the lack of audits on the tribe's finances as part of the problem and proof of the lack of accountability.

His struggle for justice and his quest for the truth haven't gone unnoticed by tribal members. Cisneros said he is flooded with calls and letters from Kickapoo people urging him to continue his fight.

A grass-roots movement supporting Cisneros will help him pay for his legal expenses which are mounting daily. Supporters have planned a benefit concert, sometime around Labor Day.

Cisneros said he has heard rumors that protesters may attend the Aug. 10 hearing. "It's going to be interesting, I think there is a little sub-plot about all this."

Rumors are thick about protesters possibly storming the Kickapoo tribal headquarters and then immediately calling the federal marshals and the FBI to come in and investigate.

Cisneros said if that was the case, he prayed tribal police officers wouldn't begin arresting tribal members, but would allow federal officials to come in to begin investigations.

"If it happens," Cisneros said, "it is a plea from the Kickapoo people. They are saying. 'We need justice, our tribe is in trouble.' It is going to be a plea for justice but it is also going to be a plea for the tribal police to not start arresting members. That will hopefully help eliminate any friction or conflict."

Knowing what he does now, would he do it all again? Would he rock the boat again or does he have any regrets? "No, I'd do it all again, it's the right thing to do, " Cisneros said simply.

Repeated calls to the Kickapoo nation officials were not returned.