It only took the jury five hours to convict the former executive director of the Choctaw Nation’s construction administration on six federal charges in Oklahoma Eastern District court Thursday evening. Jason Brett Merida was found guilty on two counts of tax fraud, two counts of theft, and one count each of conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Merida was acquitted of an additional conspiracy to commit money laundering charge.
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Six people have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit theft or bribery in exchange for reduced sentences in this case; the Choctaw Nation’s former Project manager, Allen Mark Franklin, James Winfield Stewart of Scott Rice, an office furniture company, Cordell Alan Bugg and Mark Eshenroder of Flintco construction, and Brent Alan and Lauri Ann Parsons, a married couple who own Builders Steel. Stewart and Brent Parsons also pleaded guilty to money laundering.
The prosecution painted a picture of hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of cash and gifts being lavished on Merida by the representatives from the three companies in exchange for bidding preference and allowing overcharges for millions for dollars while building the Choctaw Casinos in Pocola and Durant, Oklahoma from 2008-2011. Gifts include tickets to a Dallas Cowboys playoff game, two Kawasaki All-Terrain vehicles, a Cadillac SUV, over 50 big game rifles, all-expense paid exotic hunting trips to New Mexico and Missouri, a planned African Safari, golf trips to Pebble Beach, private plane trips to Dallas, architectural consultations on a new home, tuition and mortgage payments, more than $40,000 in home fixtures, over $160,000 in gifts from Tiffany & Co., over $250,000 in gifts from Saks Fifth Avenue, over $855,000 in Louis Vuitton accessories, and money to pay for his wife’s plastic surgery. Merida failed to mention many of the gifts on his tax statements.
Merida testified that part of his job duty was to raise money for the re-election campaign of the former Chief of the Choctaw Nation, Gregory Pyle. Other witnesses, including Brent and Lauri Ann Parsons, testified that Merida told them to donate expensive items for Pyle’s silent auctions, which were held at his fundraisers, and to make large donations to his re-election campaign. Both Pyle and the former Assistant Chief/now current Chief, Gary Batton, have denied these allegations, however both testified in the trial that they received donations from Builder’s Square and Flintco; $27,500 for Batton and $234,825 for Pyle. Both Pyle and Batton have written checks to various charities for that same amount of money. When asked why he wrote these checks, Chief Batton responded “I felt guilty about it.”
None of the charities benefit the Choctaw People.
There is no word on whether Merida is planning to appeal. Sentencing will take place at a later date.