US Court Drops Charges Brought Against Seminoles

19 December 2002

The Seminole tribe's quest for an Internet gambling operation was the focus of a federal case dismissed from court on Tuesday.

The tribe's former operations director, Tim Cox, a former computer worker Dan Wisher, and Wisher's son-in-law, Michael Crumpton, had been brought to court on fraud and embezzlement charges.

The charges were in connection with $2.77 million of the tribe's money that had been used to set up Virtual Data, an online gambling company located in Belize and Nicaragua.

On Monday, Seminole chairman James Billie testified that he OK'd the expenditures to set up the online gaming company. Billie told the court that he kept the project off the radar from the rest of the tribal government because there was an opposition to the plan from within the rest of the group.

"It was better to go under disguise and keep it quiet," Billie said, as reported in the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "I was prepared to spend up to $10 million on Internet gaming because look at the numbers. When I saw we could make so much money on this, why wouldn't I spend that?"

In a Fort Lauderdale federal court on Monday, Billie said that he had authorized three wire transfers to Virtual Data starting in 1999 after a consultant told him the tribe, which is already a wealthy land-based casino operator, could net $740 million in the first three years of operation of an online casino. One of the wire transfers totaled $1.6 million.

Defense lawyers showed checks proving that more $1 million had been spent on furniture for a hotel in Nicaragua that is in part owned by the tribe as well as computer equipment, technical support and payouts to players who won money on the Virtual Data gaming site.

Billie said the Seminole name could not appear on any paperwork for the venture and so he instructed Cox and Wisher to put the company in their own names.

Billie's testimony crippled the prosecution's case, which had depended on the three defendants not having used the transferred funds for tribal purposes. One day after Billie took the stand, the judge ended the two-week trial by ruling that the prosecution failed to show that a crime had been committed.

In court, Billie also stated that he had loaned, with tribal money, $88,000 to Cox, who is married to a Seminole tribe member, so that Cox could make an addition to his home. Billie said Cox had promised to pay the money back.

A spokesman from the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on the case to IGN. Legal counsel for the Seminole tribe failed to return IGN's phone calls on Tuesday and Wednesday. The National Indian Gaming Association did not return IGN's call on Wednesday.

Anne Lindner can be reached at