Former Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief George Phillip Tiger pleaded guilty Friday to one count of bribery related to his acceptance of nearly $62,000 while he worked a part-time job for another tribe. He could receive up to 37 months in prison.
Tiger, 69, of Bristow, admitted accepting more than one bribe from Aaron Dewayne Terry while Tiger was chairman of the Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town Economic Development Authority Board. Terry, who held various management and control positions in companies owned by the Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town, according to prosecutors, is named in a separate 14-count superseding indictment.
“Mr. Tiger took advantage of the position of trust he had been given by the people of the Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town,” U.S. Attorney Brian J. Kuester said in a written statement. “Instead of acting in the best interests of those he was appointed to serve Tiger sought out and received unlawful profit for himself.
“This office and the agencies who have been involved in this investigation are committed to identifying, investigating, and prosecuting those who corrupt the positions of trust and authority they hold.”
Melissa Godbold, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Oklahoma City Division, said Tiger “repeatedly exploited his position by soliciting and accepting bribes related to tribal business. This plea reinforces the message that law enforcement will not tolerate tribal officials who engage in corrupt activity for personal financial gain at the expense of the people they serve.”
U.S. Magistrate Kimberly West accepted Tiger’s plea during a hearing in Muskogee federal court.
“Did you act corruptly?” West asked Tiger during the hearing.
“Well, uh,” Tiger replied.
“You want to talk to your attorney for a second?” West asked after a pause.
Tiger huddled briefly with his attorney Carla Stinnett before admitting that he had acted corruptly.
A grand jury indicted Tiger on the single bribery count Aug. 14 during the midst of his campaign for re-election as principal chief.
Tiger won his first term as principal chief in 2011 before losing a re-election bid in 2015 to James Floyd, who is not seeking another term.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation rules forbid felons from running for principal chief, but absentee ballots have already been sent out ahead of the Sept. 21 primary, according to the tribe’s Election Board website.
A spokesperson for the tribe’s Election Board did not return a call for comment.
Doug Horn, senior litigation counsel for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Muskogee, told West that Tiger received $61,900 in bribes while he worked for the Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town.
Based on the amount received in bribes and other factors, Tiger could receive a 30- to 37-month prison term under federal sentencing guidelines calculated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The statutory maximum prison term for bribery is 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both.
After the plea hearing, Nelson Harjo, chief of the Wetumka-based Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town, said that “we’re absolutely satisfied” with the outcome of the case.
“It’s really unfortunate on both sides today, but unfortunately these things do happen,” Harjo said. “It’s kind of a good thing that he went ahead and pled out and saved a whole lot of time.”
Harjo said he has known Tiger “since he was a kid” but added that he did not recommend Tiger for the job, which he described as a part-time position on the tribe’s Economic Development Authority Board.
Harjo said in a written statement emailed to the Tulsa World on Aug. 16 that Tiger has not been chairman of the board since December.
Since then, Harjo wrote, the tribe “has been under different leadership and making positive strides in fulfilling the economic development goals” of the tribe.
Tiger declined to speak to reporters following the hearing.
He will be sentenced at an undetermined date following the completion of a presentencing investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.
In the meantime, he remains free on a no-cash bond.