December 19, 2014

Charges dismissed against ex-Okla. tribe worker

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) – A former Muscogee Creek Nation official accused of bilking the government out of more than $2.5 million in cigarette taxes pleaded guilty Monday to federal charges of conspiracy and perjury.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly West accepted the plea and ordered a presentencing report for Michael P. Wisner. A formal sentencing date hasn't been scheduled.

Federal prosecutors accused Wisner, of Mandeville, La., of conspiring with a tobacco wholesaler to sell cigarettes in Creek Nation smoke shops at an illegally low tax rate. Wisner was serving as the CEO of the Creek Nation's Department of Trade and Commerce Authority at the time.

Wisner was accused of brokering deals in which cigarettes would be purchased from a tobacco wholesaler in a state that wasn't part of the Master Settlement Agreement between tobacco companies and 46 states, including Oklahoma, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Roberts said. The 1998 settlement agreement required certain cigarette manufacturers to pay a $5 per carton fee.

“Generally a carton of cigarettes, which is what many tribes make money on, costs about $8 a carton, but you pay around $20 in taxes. If you can avoid that $5 MSA tax you make your money up pretty quick,” Roberts said.

The indictment also alleged that two others not indicted in the case created fraudulent documentation that showed the cigarettes sold to the Creek Nation would qualify for the lowest Oklahoma tax rate of $.58 per carton, when the tax rate should have been $7.75 per carton.

Wisner also was accused of knowingly making false representations while under oath before a federal grand jury in Muskogee.

On Friday, District Judge James Payne dismissed charges in the case against Edward Warrington, a former warehouse manager for the tribe's trade and commerce authority.

“The prosecutor involved in the case has been honorable and upfront, and felt like the charges in tribal court were identical to those in federal court,” Warrington's attorney, Allen Smallwood, said. Trying him in federal court could've constituted double jeopardy, Smallwood said.

Warrington is “very pleased” with the decision, Smallwood said.

Wisner's attorney, listed in court records as James Huber, didn't immediately return a call Monday seeking comment.

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