The Osage Gaming Enterprise Board filed an ethics complaint against Osage Congressman William “Kugee” Supernaw April 11, claiming he made libelous statements about the board and their Executive Management staff in his March 30 email newsletter Notes to the Nation.
The GEB, charged with overseeing the Nation’s gaming operations, said Supernaw knowingly made “false and defamatory” statements with “reckless disregard for the truth” about the losses at the Skiatook Travel Plaza. In doing so the GEB and their Executive Management Staff claim they have suffered injury to their “professional reputation for honesty, veracity, and integrity in its business dealings, as evidenced by postings to the Osage Shareholder’s Blog by Osage Nation members, which demonstrate that certain members of the Nation have been misled into believing that the false accusations against [the GEB] have some basis in fact.”
The 3-page complaint asks that Congress censure Supernaw and said that he is in violation of Article X, Section 3 of the Osage Constitution which requires officials and employees of the Osage Nation to “refrain from abusive conduct, personal charges, or verbal affronts upon the character, motives, or intents of other officials or Osage Citizens.”
The Osage Congressional Rules and Ethics Committee met May 10 to discuss the complaint with Congressman Supernaw. Normally held in Executive Session, Supernaw waived his right to the executive session for a public hearing.
In attendance was the Principal Chief and one of his staff members, the congressional counsel and five members of the Osage Minerals Council. The Rules and Ethics committee is made up of three members, Speaker of the Congress Jerri Jean Branstetter (chair), Congressmen Eddy Red Eagle and Archie Mason.
Supernaw issued a statement in which he defended his March 30 Notes to the Nation on the Skiatook Travel Plaza. He said he didn’t “knowingly” make false statements because the information in his newsletter he believed to be true based on information and reports he’s privy to as a congressman.
“I clearly indicate that this is only my opinion of a plausible explanation of the continuing losses being incurred at the Skiatook Travel Plaza. I have examined the data that has been provided to the Congress and it appears to me that the expense charged to the Travel Plaza are so far out of line in relation to sales that, again in my opinion, some are expenses of the casino operation,” he said. “This itself would be improper but not illegal. We have been talking about this for some time now and no substantial changes have occurred, so I said that ‘if this is being done, it’s not being done accidentally.’ I go on to say that ‘if’ this is being done it (obviously) would inflate the profits at the casino. No individuals are mentioned in the newsletter.”
Supernaw said he provided documents to support his claims in the newsletter but more than 20 Osage officials also receive the same information. He also noted that two hearings about the Travel Plaza with the CEO of the Nation’s gaming enterprise, Neil Cornelius, were broadcast to the Nation. At one of those hearings Cornelius became visibly upset with Supernaw’s questions.
Supernaw claims in his March 30 newsletter that the Skiatook Travel Plaza has lost more than $730,000 in the past two years and is on track to lose another $300,000 for the 2011 fiscal year. He said that he believes a forensic audit would reveal the reason for the losses and that he only wanted to draw attention to the problem because he feels a real responsibility to safeguard the Osage people’s money. He said he did not want to say that the losses indicated gross mismanagement, incompetency or a total disregard for the safety of the people’s money.
“I hope the complaint [is] dismissed as frivolous and an attempt to stop my inquiries,” he said. “The [GEB] is not even an official of the Osage Nation or an Osage citizen who would be covered under an ethics complaint. The [GEB] is an entity and has no voting or membership right. It is supposed to be owned by all Osages.”
Osage Minerals Councilman Joseph “Sonny” Abbott came to Supernaw’s defense at the meeting, saying he was there as a private citizen and that he appreciates Supernaw’s Notes to the Nation.
“I’m glad someone on the Congress is looking into this and I think he’s being too kind to this gaming board,” Abbott said. “He’s being way too kind to them.”
The Rules and Ethics Committee cannot make a ruling on the complaint. They only review and then pass it on to the Congressional Affairs committee. After Congressional Affairs it will be brought before the entire Congress for a ruling.
Congressman Red Eagle said it’s hard for a member of Congress to refrain from becoming overzealous at times in their comments and it will be up to Congress to determine how a member of Congress should ethically handle those situations.
“Even if we feel they are doing a bad job, can we say that in our positions, in our capacity?” Red Eagle said. “Someone has taken this offensively.”
This is not the first ethics complaint against Congressman Supernaw. The first came in 2008 when he and three other members of the First Osage Nation Congress entered a restricted area of the Hominy casino to investigate alleged accounting irregularities with the Bartlesville casino. The four Congress members were investigated by the Osage Gaming Commission but no charges were brought against them.
Of the experience he wrote, “. . . members of Congress exercised their oversight responsibility and investigated the reports of accounting irregularities . . . only to be investigated ourselves, blasted in the Osage News and for a time even questioned by other members of Congress.”
The ethics violation brought by the GEB on Congressman Supernaw will be discussed again at 2 p.m. on May 17 in the congressional chambers.