The Miccosukee Tribe in the Miami-Dade area alleges former chairman Billy Cypress embezzled $26 million from the tribe during his term from 2005 to 2009 before he was voted out. Cypress allegedly went on extravagant shopping sprees, spending the tribe's money on luxury cars, homes, hotels and gambling.
Cypress bought real estate worth $4 million and shopped away another $3 million with a tribe-issued credit card. The charges include "fine dining, jewelry, privately chartered excursions, personal items, art, expensive personal clothing, lodging and other personal expenses that were not related in any way to his official duties," according to court documents. He also took out over $11.5 million at ATMs, including withdrawals at casinos in Florida and Las Vegas, the suit alleges.
Former Miccosukee attorneys Dexter Lehtinen and Guy Lewis, former Miccosukee financial officers Miguel Hernandez and Julio Martinez, and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney are also implicated for conspiring with Cypress. The defendants concealed his fraud and knowingly benefitting from tribal funds, according to the plaintiffs.
Martinez, who is accused of enabling Cypress's ongoing theft and himself using a tribe-issued credit card with Cypress's approval, denied knowledge of the card and said that the Miccosukee tribal council knew about Cypress's spending activity, the Miami Herald reports.
The suit, however, claims the tribe did not discover the misappropriation of funds until 2010.
Attorneys Lehtin and Lewis are accused of aiding and abetting Cypress, and allegedly received millions of dollars in tribal funds in exchange for fabricated legal services.
Lehtin also denied the tribe's charge to the Miami Herald, saying members had more access to their own financial records than he did.
This is not the first time Cypress has been been caught up in legal troubles. In a federal tax case brought against him in 2010, the IRS claimed that from 2003 to 2005, Cypress failed to report $6.65 million in income -- half of which he drew in cash advances with a tribe-issued credit card, according to the Sun Sentinel. That suit also recorded extravagant spending made by Cypress with tribal funds, including on casinos, hotels and restaurants.