A former Muscogee (Creek) Nation elected official is seeking to become the tribe’s next principal chief while facing criminal charges regarding his activities with another tribe.
Bim Stephen Bruner, 70, is still fighting felony gambling-related charges more than two years after tribal law enforcement officials arrested him and seized a building and gambling machines on his Broken Arrow property.
Creek Nation Lighthorse Police raided the yet-to-be-opened Embers Grille at 11500 S. 129th East Ave. on Aug. 16, 2017, after alleging that the federally recognized Kialegee Tribal Town was preparing to open a casino on the property that was not licensed by the Creeks.
Creek Nation officials charged Bruner, an enrolled member of the Kialegee tribe and once a member of the Creek Nation National Council, with one count of possessing unlicensed gaming devices and one count of maintaining an unlicensed gambling premise. Bruner has pleaded not guilty and denied the allegations through his attorney, Trevor Reynolds.
Progress on the case has stalled at times while the Creek Nation Supreme Court took up pretrial legal disputes.
However, action has really slowed since the Creek Nation Supreme Court ruled in May that the original trial judge must recuse himself from the case, Reynolds said.
“The last hearing we had, the judge basically said, ‘If you want something done, file a motion, and I’ll set it for hearing,’ ” Reynolds said. “We’re just basically sitting right now, waiting for the government to do something — anything.”
Members of the Wetumka-based Kialegee Tribal Town and Red Creek Holdings LLC, a Florida company backing the development, had been at work on what it claimed was a dance hall, bar and planned casino when it was raided by Creek Nation Lighthorse Police.
Kialegee and Red Creek officials claimed at the time that no gaming would be conducted until approved by the National Indian Gaming Commission.
The Kialegee tribe argued that as a member of the historic Creek Nation, it shared jurisdiction over all lands within the Creek reservation and had the right to operate its own casino.
However, two months before the raid, the NIGC issued an opinion indicating that the Bruner-owned property, was not eligible for gaming under the Kialegee tribe.
Creek Nation Attorney General Kevin Dellinger said in an interview this week that the case against Bruner was still “moving forward” although no trial date has been set and he wasn’t sure whether any pretrial hearing dates have been scheduled.
“There are steps that will need to be taken to get to trial — discovery and things like that,” Dellinger said, adding later: “I think we’ll be taking action to get a trial date set.”
Reynolds said he has filed numerous motions, including one to compel discovery and another asserting Bruner’s desire to bring the case to trial quickly.
“And here we are, two years later, having been denied our right to a speedy trial,” Reynolds said.
The case was sidelined twice while issues were appealed to the tribe’s Supreme Court, once to decide whether the charges were felonies and another time to decide the recusal issue.
In the first instance, the tribal Supreme Court ruled that the charges were indeed felonies. Bruner faces up to three years in jail if convicted on either count, Dellinger said.
Meanwhile, Bruner continues to be banned from his property, Reynolds said.
Dellinger said the Bruner property is still considered a “crime scene” that the tribe continues to “maintain and preserve.”
Dellinger would not rule out the possibility that the tribe would seek at some point to seize the property.
“As we move forward we’ll deal more with the issues of potential forfeiture at a later time,” he said.
Reynolds said Bruner was an “innocent landowner.”
“What I think has happened is his land has been taken from him by his tribe,” Reynolds said.
“The development doesn’t even belong to Mr. Bruner,” Reynolds said. “All that was licensed (through) Red Creek development. But they aren’t on the hook. Only Mr. Bruner is.”
Asked if he saw an end to the litigation, Reynolds said, “As of right now, no.”
“This is not our lawsuit,” Reynolds said. “The tribe is prosecuting Mr. Bruner. They are the ones who pulled the lever on this.
“We don’t have a duty to prove him innocent. They have a duty to prove him guilty, and thus far they have refused to do that.”
Bruner did not return a telephone call seeking comment on the case.