QUAPAW, Oklahoma – By a unanimous vote with one abstention, the Quapaw Nation Business Committee voted to disqualify former Quapaw Nation Chairman John L. Berrey as a candidate for Vice-Chairman of the tribe he led for more than 20 years. Vice-Chairwoman Callie Bowden was the lone abstention.
Berrey is currently facing 11 criminal charges and four civil complaints in Quapaw Nation tribal court, including embezzlement and conspiracy. Registered Quapaw Nation voters challenged Berrey’s candidacy partly based on the pending charges, including that he would not fulfill his oath of office if elected. The same citizens also allege Berrey committed treason against the tribe by filing now-dismissed defamation charges in non-tribal court related to the charges against him.
According to a joint statement issued by the Quapaw Nation Business Committee, “The attempt to abscond from tribal property with unapproved severance and PTO or the systematic disregard for compensation approval from this Committee are issues of fact and could not be ignored by the Business Committee.”
Under Section 8.7 of The Election and Voting Ordinance of 2004, Quapaw Nation law “allows any registered voter to challenge the eligibility of any person to be a candidate by filing with the Election Committee a statement setting forth the grounds for the challenge.”
Voters filed their challenge before the Quapaw Nation Election Committee, which determined Berrey was eligible for candidacy. Although the Election Committee is the first venue for adjudicating simple matters related to tribal elections, its scope under Section 8.8 of the Voting Ordinance is limited to matters such as determining candidate eligibility. It does not consider citizen complaints beyond simple eligibility, which is appealable to the Quapaw Nation Business Committee under Section 8.9.
Section 8.9 of The Election and Voting Ordinance of 2004 reads in part, “the challenging party or the challenged candidate can appeal when they do not agree with the determination of the Election Committee, and the authority to render a determination of challenge rests with the Business Committee. The determination of the Business Committee shall be final and is not appealable to any court or tribunal.”
In this case, the Quapaw Nation Business Committee found in favor of the challenging parties. Saying although they were unpersuaded by many of the arguments challenging Berrey’s candidacy, “we do find the argument based on John Berrey’s misappropriation of funds in his capacity as the former Chairman of the Downstream Development Authority highly persuasive.”
The Business Committee cited the Quapaw Nation General Council meeting in October of 2020, where an independent audit was made public to tribal citizens disclosing various alleged financial crimes and misconduct. Among them, on July 27, 2020, one day after a majority of the Quapaw Nation Business Committee removed Berrey from the Downstream Development Authority, the audit found the former Chief Financial Officer of Downstream Casino Resort printed checks for severance and compensation of accrued paid time off (PTO) for John L. Berrey and other individuals, in excess of one million dollars, at the direction of Berrey. This was in direct violation of Title 17 § 114 of the Quapaw Code, which requires any and all compensation paid to members of the DDA to be approved by the Business Committee.
Additionally, throughout the construction of Saracen Casino in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, it is documented that Berrey and other executives awarded themselves “success bonuses” without authorization or approval of the Business Committee. Such actions are required under the Quapaw Code, further violating Title 17 § 114.
In a joint statement explaining their decision, the Quapaw Nation Business Committee wrote,
“In a much more official capacity than a declaration of candidacy, each elected member of the Business Committee, upon installment, swears to support the policies, as well as the laws of this Tribe. Each of us serving on the Business Committee took an oath that we would work diligently toward the goals and objectives of the Tribe and to fully commit ourselves to the responsibilities of our positions for the purpose of which it was established. It is this oath of office by which we tether our decision.
“The Governing Resolution delegates authority to the Quapaw Nation Business Committee to speak and act on behalf of the Quapaw Nation. In our roles as elected officials, we are required to exercise its powers in the best interest of the Tribe.
“It is the decision of the Business Committee to overturn the determination of the Election Committee by declaring John L. Berrey unsuitable for candidacy to the Quapaw Nation Business Committee. The Business Committee hereby disqualifies John L. Berrey from this election and orders the Election Committee to remove his name as a candidate.
“It is so ordered.”