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Seminole Tribe used federal COVID funds for high-stakes raffle – Florida Bulldog

From the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s flyer asserting its large cash COVID raffle

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org

The Seminole Tribe of Florida used not less than $3 million in federal COVID aid cash to stage a high-stakes raffle as an incentive to get tribal members as younger as 12 vaccinated.

Flyers pitched the raffle because the “Shot of a Lifetime!” and introduced that anybody who was absolutely vaccinated and offered proof by Oct. 4, 2021 can be entered into the drawing to be held the following day.

The grand prize was $1 million. The prizes for first by means of fourth place after that have been $750,000, $500,000, $250,000 and $100,000, respectively. One other 20 fortunate winners would every obtain $20,000. Additionally, all adults over 18 who have been entered have been to obtain a $500 vaccine distribution.

The raffle’s prizes

Tribal critics accused Tribal Council Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr. of improperly “permitting the distribution of federal COVID funds for permitting a distribution by means of a system of lottery performed by Dr. Vandhana Kiswani-[Barley], Tribal Government Director of Well being and Human Providers.” A recall petition accusing Osceola of mismanagement provides, “Many tribal members who obtained vaccinations and [were] eligible for entry weren’t entered into the lottery and didn’t obtain any cash from the federal funds.”

“Tribal members even have data that the Chairman’s illegitimate son, who’s a minor, was the million-dollar winner,” the petition says. Osceola has denied each allegations.

The tribe, which is predicated in Broward, didn’t televise the drawing citing “affected person privateness,” and has refused to call the winners it says have been randomly chosen by “a pc program.”


An up to date flyer launched shortly after the drawing says the winners “will stay nameless,” however famous they ranged in age from 13 to 68. The flyer says the grand prize million-dollar winner was stated to be a Hollywood resident who lives off the reservation. The primary ($750,000) and fourth ($100,000) place winners dwell on the Hollywood reservation; the second-place winner of a half-million {dollars} resides on the tribe’s Large Cypress reservation. The third-place winner of $250,000 was described solely as a “nonresident.”


In distinction, the Florida Lottery operates underneath strict safety tips and procedures in an purpose to guarantee equity and transparency. They embrace having a law-enforcement officer who serves because the draw supervisor and an auditor from an impartial auditing agency who attends and participates in drawings. Draw tools is stored in a safe vault.

Even when the raffle wasn’t rigged, it might be problematic for Osceola and the remainder of the five-person tribal council.

Federal Treasury guidelines relating to the usage of $350 million in Coronavirus State and Native Fiscal Restoration Funds, a part of American Rescue Plan Act funds administered by the Division of the Inside, enable tribal governments to make use of monetary incentives to get their folks vaccinated. However solely “as long as such prices are moderately proportional to the anticipated public well being profit.”

Some, however not all, tribal governments have used COVID incentives, however with payouts a mere fraction of these handed out by the Seminoles of Florida. Examples embrace:

  • The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North and South Dakota supplied $2,000 to each enrolled member over the age of 5 who obtained each of their Moderna or Pfizer pictures, or one shot of Johnson & Johnson.
  • Oklahoma’s Muscogee (Creek) Nation gave between $300 and $500.
  • Wisconsin’s Oneida and Menominee tribes gave $500.
  • The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma awarded $300 to greater than 4,000 of its authorities workers.
  • Montana’s Blackfeet Nation handed out incentives of $250 per vaccine shot to Blackfeet college students between 12-17.
  • The Mescalero Apache Tribe in New Mexico supplied incentives of $100 and $200.
  • The Navajo-Hopi Households Reduction Fund used a wide range of incentives starting from $250 reward playing cards, t-shirts, bumper stickers and a grand prize of a “Phoenix Suns sport expertise.”
  • Washington’s Spokane Tribe of Indians gave $100 to its vaccinated members, in addition to getting into them in a number of $500 drawings.

Ire over the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s outsized prizes got here to a head at an Oct. 10 particular assembly of the Tribal Council at which greater than 200 members sought Marcellus Osceola’s ouster as chairman for that and different causes. The hassle failed, however not earlier than Osceola labeled as “false” the claims that he misused federal COVID funds and that his son received the million-dollar raffle drawing.


Chairman Osceola didn’t reply to requests for remark by telephone and e mail. Florida Bulldog, nonetheless, obtained a transcript of the October assembly of the tribe’s chief governing physique throughout which he expressed his ideas.

Seminole Tribe Chairman Marcellus Osceola

In keeping with the transcript, marked “Tribal Members Solely” and ready by Tribal Clerk Jacob Ramos utilizing an audio and a visible MP3 recording of the assembly, Osceola acknowledged that federal COVID cash was used for the large cash lottery, however stated it was permitted by the five-member council, not by him alone.

“I suppose the ‘he’ ought to be modified to ‘Council’ as a result of the Council permitted the distribution of COVID funds from the federal authorities,” Osceola stated. “We have been doing the identical factor that everyone else was doing all over the world – attempting to get folks vaccinated, attempting to get herd immunity by means of the Tribe, and this complete Council right here was part of that to approve these {dollars} to be spent to attempt to get folks to enroll and get vaccinated so that they might be a part of this drawing.”

“Once more, [the] Tribal Council permitted these funds so it’s no shock. So, if I’m responsible of this cost then the entire Council’s responsible,” he stated.

Osceola went on to say the “false declare of a million-dollar winner being my illegitimate son, um, you understand that has repercussions these allegations, as a result of you understand once more defamation of character, slander,” Osceola stated. “Individuals get sued for lots much less.”


Tribe member Laura Billie, who wrote the recall petition that was signed by 285 members – greater than the required 20 % who voted within the 2019 election that Osceola received – stated the chairman’s assurances concerning the raffle will not be a enough clarification, and that an investigation of what occurred ought to be made.

Lesley Billie, left, and Laura Billie

“Sure, nevertheless it must be somebody impartial from the tribe. It must be outdoors the Seminole police which studies on to the chairman, as does the well being and human companies division,” Billie stated. “The way in which I see that is the COVID funds are to profit the folks … On this case they used the cash for a lottery and lots of the folks didn’t profit from that lottery, greater than 80 %.”

Lesley Billie, a fellow clan member and cousin of Laura Billie and an ex-wife of former chief James Billie, agreed and that the cash shouldn’t have benefitted only some. “I simply felt we may have distributed it amongst the tribal members,” she stated.

Dr. Kiswani-Barley refused to reply Florida Bulldog’s questions on how and the place the raffle was performed and referred a reporter to longtime Tribe Normal Counsel Jim Shore. Shore didn’t straight reply to a listing of questions despatched to him on Thursday, however did have tribe spokesman Gary Bitner concern this assertion:


“In the summertime of 2021, throughout the peak of sickness from the COVID Delta variant, well being officers of the Seminole Tribe obtained unanimous approval from the Seminole Tribal Council to implement a singular and ingenious program to spur COVID vaccinations that would stop additional sickness and demise amongst Seminole Tribe members.  It was documented that many Native People have been vaccine-hesitant, and unvaccinated Seminoles of all ages have been getting sick and dying.  This system included a nominal reward for vaccinations and the chance to win raffle prizes.  Winners have been chosen at random by way of computer-selected names of all vaccinated members.  To make sure a good final result, one non-Tribe employees member from the Tribe’s Well being, IT and Police Departments have been the one people current on the time of the drawing. The chosen names weren’t made public as a result of privateness necessities for all well being information. This system resulted in a small improve within the vaccination price amongst members of the Tribe. It’s unimaginable to know what number of lives have been saved. Any suggestion of impropriety in any side of this system is totally not true.”

The Seminole Tribe gaming compact was signed April 23, 2021. To the rapid left of Gov. DeSantis are Chairman Marcellus Osceola and tribe Normal Counsel Jim Shore. On the governor’s proper are Tribal Council members Chris Osceola and Larry Howard and James Allen, chairman of Arduous Rock Worldwide and CEO of Seminole Gaming. Photograph: The governor’s workplace.

Like many different state and native governments within the U.S., sovereign native tribes have obtained a number of rounds of COVID funding, together with by way of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan enacted in March 2021 and the even larger Coronavirus Help, Reduction and Financial Safety (CARES) Act in 2020.

Exactly what batch of federal COVID {dollars} was used to fund the Seminole’s high-stakes lottery isn’t identified. USASPENDING.GOV, which tracks authorities spending, says the Treasury has allotted $149.7 million in COVID aid funds to the Seminole Tribe of Florida – among the many most federal support offered to any native tribal authorities.

The tribe has roughly 4,300 registered members right now.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is among the wealthiest tribes within the nation. A pioneer within the Indian on line casino business, it acquired Arduous Rock Worldwide Inc. and its associated entities in 2007. The worldwide firm owns the Seminole Arduous Rock Resort & On line casino close to Hollywood and has Arduous Rock cafes, casinos and lodges in 75 international locations.

Arduous Rock Worldwide is just not publicly traded. Forbes journal estimated Arduous Rock Worldwide’s 2021 income was $3.2 billion. This 12 months’s estimate is $5.2 billion.

In April 2021, the tribe entered right into a 30-year gaming compact with the State of Florida that may pay the state a assured minimal of $2.5 billion in new income over the following 5 years and an estimated $6 billion by means of 2030, in response to Gov. Ron DeSantis. The deal, which additionally licensed sports activities betting in Florida by means of the tribe, was signed by DeSantis and Osceola.

Registered members of the tribe presently obtain month-to-month dividend checks that whole $126,000 a 12 months.

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