After more than a decade of serving as an outside auditor for casinos owned and operated by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Price Waterhouse Coopers has stepped down, reported the Clarion-Ledger.
A spokesperson for the auditing firm would not comment on why, although the company's decision coincides with the time FBI agents subpoenaed records from the tribal chief.
On July 12, some 40 FBI agents raided the Mississippi Choctaw's Pearl River Resort, which includes two gaming facilities: Golden Moon and Silver Star casinos in Choctaw near Philadelphia, Mississippi, and seized hard drives and documents.
The raid came during a turbulent period for tribal leadership. Phyliss J. Anderson would have taken office July 12 in the chief’s $466,000 salary position except for a council vote that negated that election and called for a new one September 6. In the July 5 runoff election, Phyliss J. Anderson was expected to be declared the new Tribal Chief with 1,971 votes to former Chief Beasley Denson's 1,618 votes. While Denson conceded that day, two days later, the Choctaw Tribal Council cited voting irregularities and negated the results of the June 14 regular election and, thus, the runoff as well.
Another newspaper, The Neshoba Democrat, quoted “multiple sources” as saying the FBI investigation could have been about alleged election fraud.
According to WLBT in Jackson, Mississippi, the raid was “likely” related to Denson and Mercury Gaming of Atlanta, Georgia. Its affiliated marketing arm, The Titan Agency, manages the tribe's Pearl River Resort. A website report by the station’s Cheryl Lassiter says that sources told her Denson had been paying Mercury Gaming chief executive Doug Pattison $60,000 per month, a amount that increased to $250,000 in February, and tribal council was unaware of these payouts.
Two days following the July 12 raid, Moody's Investors Service downgraded money borrowed by the Choctaw Resort Development Enterprise, $200 million in securities, to junk bond status, reported the Clarion-Ledger.
The FBI's investigation may "indicate potential internal control weaknesses and could affect Choctaw's casino operations in the future," Moody's report stated, reported the Clarion-Ledger.
When Anderson and Denson face off again September 6, they will compete against a new candidate who qualified to race, Shirley Berg. "There is a need for a leader who is trustworthy and has integrity to lead the tribe into the future," Berg told the Clarion-Ledger. "... My vision is to empower the tribe's legacy of self-determination, bringing the voice of the people back into tribal government."
Anderson says when she takes office, she will cancel tribe contracts with Mercury Gaming. Recent events "have been difficult for our tribal people," Anderson said in a statement. "With an overturned election, FBI raid and downgrade of the tribe's bonds, we have some serious challenges to overcome, no doubt."
Recently, Chief Beasley Denson has been touring Choctaw communities on his re-election campaign.
The tribe also operates the Hattiesburg, Mississippi-based Bok Homa Casino.