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    Tribe sues ousted chief over sick pay

    The Seminole Tribe alleges James E. Billie and a tribal manager falsified records to obtain $241,000.

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published December 8, 2001

    The Seminole Tribe of Florida has again sued ousted tribal chairman James E. Billie, this time accusing him and a former manager of fraud involving $241,000 in sick pay.

    The lawsuit, filed late Thursday in Broward Circuit Court, accuses Billie and his former operations manager, Tim Cox, of falsifying payroll records to pay $169,000 to "buy the silence" of Christine O'Donnell.

    O'Donnell, a 17-year Seminole employee who became a $100,000-a-year tribal administrator, claims Billie coerced her into frequent sexual relations, got her pregnant, forced her to get an abortion, then fired her.

    The new Seminole complaint also alleges that Billie and Cox conspired to divert $72,000 in unused sick time to Billie in violation of tribal rules. The tribe's personnel policies do not allow employees to sell unused sick time back to the tribe.

    "The tribal council has made the decision to put its house in order," said tribal attorney Donald A. Orlovsky, who filed the lawsuit. "This is part of the effort to clean house and make people accountable for moneys taken inappropriately."

    Orlovsky said he could not comment on whether the latest tribal allegations are being investigated by the FBI. According to a September letter filed by the tribe with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Billie is the target of a federal grand jury investigation involving allegations of embezzlement and theft of federal grant money.

    Billie's attorney, Robert Saunooke, did not return a call from the St. Petersburg Times Friday. Cox could not be reached for comment.

    Billie is the flamboyant songwriter and alligator wrestler first elected to lead the Seminole Tribe in 1979. With the federal investigation of him under way, the tribal council fired Cox, then voted in May to suspend Billie and remove his name from the payroll. Council members cited the sexual harassment claim by O'Donnell and said Billie could not be reinstated until her complaint is resolved and a special audit of tribal finances is complete.

    O'Donnell's federal suit against Billie was dismissed in October on jurisdictional grounds. She appealed that ruling and last week refiled the civil charges in Broward Circuit Court.

    In the meantime, audit results led the tribe to file two lawsuits: one in October accusing Billie and Cox of a stock manipulation scheme that drained the tribal treasury of $20-million, and a second, filed this week, over alleged misappropriation of sick time money.

    The latest lawsuit states Billie and Cox destroyed tribal records and falsified documents to produce a $100,000 severance package as hush money to O'Donnell.

    At the time of her termination, O'Donnell was entitled to just one hour of sick pay as severance. But Billie and Cox caused phony records to be created giving O'Donnell 2,764 hours -- or 345 days -- of unused sick leave, resulting in a check for $100,000, according to the lawsuit.

    The payout, after Social Security and other deductions, was much lower than $100,000, the suit says, so Cox had a replacement check prepared which fraudulently adjusted O'Donnell's rate of pay upward so she would receive a net severance check of $100,000.

    The final check delivered to O'Donnell, dated Oct. 30, 2000, was in excess of $169,000.

    Neither O'Donnell's severance check nor the $72,000 check for unused sick time to Billie were approved by tribal council members, the lawsuit says.

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