Published August 2, 2016
TAHLEQUAH—The Cherokee Nation took legal action late last week against former Cherokee Nation Foundation Executive Director Kimberlie Gilliland for alleged embezzlement and fraud.
The Cherokee Nation Office of the Attorney General filed criminal charges in Cherokee Nation District Court against Gilliland, seeking jail time and fines. Former AG Diane Hammons has been appointed as a special prosecutor for the case.
The Cherokee Nation Foundation, represented by attorney Ralph Keen Jr., has also filed a civil case in tribal court, seeking a repayment by Gilliland of $232,000 in funds in addition to punitive damages.
“It is the duty of the attorney general to safeguard the assets of the Cherokee Nation,” Attorney General Todd Hembree said. “During this investigation, we uncovered fraud and corruption that cannot, and will not, be tolerated in our organization.”
The charges stem from a more than two-year investigation involving irregularities in Gilliland’s salary, travel, spending and awarding of foundation scholarships. Gilliland was appointed to serve as executive director in 2009 and served until 2013.
The Cherokee Nation Foundation is a nonprofit created under the bylaws of the Cherokee Nation to put more Cherokee students through college with scholarship opportunities. It also provides ACT preparation and programs starting in elementary school to encourage higher learning.
“The primary mission of the Cherokee Nation Foundation is to provide higher education opportunities to qualifying Cherokee students as a means of reaching their full academic potential,” said Keen Jr. “Significant assets have been wrongfully embezzled and converted to the detriment of those deserving students. It is my client’s solemn duty and obligation to utilize the full extent of civil law to recover those assets and return them to the mission for which they were intended and entrusted.”
In the 2015-16 academic year, the Cherokee Nation Foundation awarded $134,000 in college scholarships and helped 1,140 students with ACT prep.
In a separate program, the Cherokee Nation also awarded in that time frame 3,800 Cherokee college students each $4,000 per year for college. Those awards were given to all Cherokee students who qualified and met application deadlines.