November 21, 2014

Former Choctaw Nation Executive Director of Construction Found Guilty of Conspiracy to Commit Bribery, Theft of Federal Funds by Tribal Officer, and Money Laundering

MUSKOGEE, OK—The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, announced that JASON BRETT MERIDA, age 42, of Rattan, Oklahoma was found guilty by a federal jury on Thursday, November 20, 2014 of six counts of a seven-count indictment.

The defendant was indicted in February, 2014 and charged with Conspiracy To Commit Theft Or Bribery Of Programs Receiving Federal Funds, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371; 2 Counts of Theft By An Employee Or Officer Of A Tribal Government Receiving Federal Funds, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 666(a)(1)(A) and 2; Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1957 and 2 Counts of Tax Fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 7206(1).

The defendant was acquitted on one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The trial began with testimony on October 29, 2014 and concluded with closing arguments and jury deliberations on Thursday, November 20, 2014.

Testimony at the trial established that MERIDA, the former Executive Director of Construction for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, conspired to corruptly demand, solicit and receive cash, trips, a Cadillac Escalade, plumbing fixtures, cattle guards, and other things of value in excess of the $5,000 from subcontractors performing work on Choctaw Nation construction projects. The testimony also revealed MERIDA, in concert with others, submitted and approved false invoices from subcontractors allowing him to steal, embezzle and fraudulently convert in excess of $500,000 in funds from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma which were used to purchase items for MERIDA and others. The items included firearms, hunting equipment, hunting trips and furniture. MERIDA also willfully failed to report the proceeds of the fraud on his federal income taxes in 2009 and 2010.

The charges resulted from an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigations.

United States Attorney Mark Green stated, “Greed can be a terrible vice! In this case, Jason Merida and his co-conspirators placed their personal gain above the interests of the Choctaw Nation and its members. This verdict is a prime example of justice served when officials abuse a public trust.”

“Last night’s guilty verdict is loud and clear: bribery, conspiracy, money laundering and tax fraud are not acceptable business practices to gain contracts with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma,” said R. Damon Rowe, Special Agent in Charge for Dallas Field Office of IRS Criminal Investigation. He continued, “IRS will use every means available to identify and investigate those individuals who utilize illegal means to gain lucrative contracts to the detriment of the Choctaw Nation and to the American taxpayer.”

James Finch, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation added, “The conviction of Jason Merida should serve as a reminder for all public officials to honor their respective offices. Corrupt public officials mar the trust which must exist between citizenry and government, and rob the public of the expectation that public officials will exercise good stewardship of their trust. The FBI and its investigative partners will continue to pursue and bring to justice all who soil their office.”

The Honorable James H. Payne, District Judge in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, in Muskogee, presided over the trial and ordered the completion of a presentence investigation report. The defendant was released while awaiting sentencing.

First Assistant United States Attorney Douglas A. Horn and Assistant United States Attorney Chris Wilson represented the United States.