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Tribal funds were misdirected

DENVER – A former tax commissioner of the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma who spent embezzled money on purchases ranging from her brother’s bail bond to horse shampoo failed to convince the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Oct. 13 that a lower court’s decision was based on insufficient evidence.

Emily Anne Saupitty, 53, of Apache, Okla. was found guilty of 33 counts of embezzlement from her tribe after she received eight checks payable to the Apache Tax Commission totaling $107,627 for oil and gas taxes and then deposited them in an account on which she was the only signatory, according to the FBI office that investigated the crime.

Saupitty was elected in 1998 as secretary-treasurer of the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma and the following year was named a tax commissioner who could receive tax checks from oil and gas companies for drilling on tribal land.

The tribe hired a California attorney to assist the tribe in collecting tax revenues, court records showed. The attorney forwarded a revenue check for the Apache Tax Commission from an oil company to Saupitty, who opened a bank account with the check in Lawton, Okla. without the tribe’s knowledge.

She listed the name on the account as the Apache Tax Commission, but gave the attorney’s address and her home address as the mailing address, not the tribe’s address in Anadarko, Okla.

The Apache Tribe maintained bank accounts in Anadarko into which the taxes were to be deposited, and the tribe received none of the money deposited into Saupitty’s Lawton bank account, the FBI said.

She “paid a geologist and attorney who helped collect the taxes, and then used the remaining funds to purchase a computer for her home, pay for travel for herself and friends, and spread money around to gain political support as she ran for tribal offices.” -FBI/Department of Justice, concerning an embezzlement from the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma

After Saupitty deposited the checks, she “paid a geologist and attorney who helped collect the taxes, and then used the remaining funds to purchase a computer for her home, pay for travel for herself and friends, and spread money around to gain political support as she ran for tribal offices,” according to the FBI, “which was able to recover records relating to some, but not all of the funds withdrawn” by Saupitty, the court said.

Saupitty wrote checks to herself and made cash withdrawals for “consultant fees,” court records showed.

The cash was used for, “among other things, computers and office supplies and equipment found in her home; cabinets for her home; travel expenses for herself and other tribal members to attend numerous conferences throughout the country; repairs for her car; clothing, including underwear from Victoria’s Secret; her son’s rent and back taxes; her brother’s bail bond; food and groceries; craft and fabric supplies; the electric bill for her family’s church; donations to television evangelists; banquet and party supplies and prizes; and miscellaneous personal items such as curtain rods, candy, soda, herbs and vitamins, and horse shampoo,” the court said.

Eventually, she withdrew all the tribal funds from the account she had established.

After she was indicted by a federal grand jury, she was charged with and found guilty of 33 counts of embezzlement and was sentenced in District Court in 2009 to serve 27 months in federal prison, to then serve two years of supervised release, to pay $107,627 in restitution, and to perform 104 hours of community service.

Saupitty contended in the appeals court that there was insufficient evidence “that she possessed the requisite intent” to commit the embezzlement and argued “that all of her actions and use of tribal tax revenues were authorized and made in good faith, and not for personal gain.”

She also argued that tribal resolutions authorized her to open a bank account for tax revenues and to withdraw from that account to pay any Tax Commission expenses, and also that two members of the tribe’s business committee were aware she had opened the Lawton bank account. Tribal officials denied there were such resolutions or awareness.

The computer and office equipment and supplies in her home were Tax Commission expenses, she said, as were her “consulting fees, travel expenses, car repair expenses and party expenses,” the court said. “She had no explanation for many of her withdrawals, but testified that she used many of the cash withdrawals to give gifts to needy

tribal members.”

“There was ample evidence that Ms. Saupitty knew her actions did not comply with the law and were not authorized by the tribe,” said a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court. Under the Tax Act, “all tax money must be deposited in the tribe’s treasury account, and the tax commissioner is not authorized to spend these funds on her own authority.” The federal appeals court upheld her conviction in Oklahoma District Court.