Ex-Cherokee Nation Foundation leader fights Poland embezzlement charges |


The former executive director of the Cherokee Nation Foundation, who now lives in Poland, went to federal court to have the tribal embezzlement charges against her thrown out.

Kimberlie Gilliland, 52, filed a motion in federal court in Tulsa seeking to quash a warrant for her arrest and related charges brought against her by Cherokee Nation authorities.

The writ of habeas corpus, filed earlier this month, asks a federal judge to find that an arrest warrant issued in an amended complaint naming Gilliland for embezzlement “represents a restriction serious enough of his liberty interests to warrant habeas corpus review,” according to the 426-page complaint.

The petition asks a federal judge to determine that a 15-count amended complaint filed against her in 2019 in the Cherokee Nation District Court is unconstitutional, illegal and should be dismissed.

Former Cherokee Nation Senior Chief Chad Smith, who is now a lawyer in private practice, represents Gilliland.

While Cherokee Nation officials argue Gilliland fled the country to avoid prosecution, Smith said her client simply wanted the charges against her dismissed so she could return to the United States.

He said she feared being arrested on the Cherokee Nation warrant if she attempted to enter the country.

After Cherokee Nation officials filed initial charges against Gilliland in 2016, Smith said she lost her new job and couldn’t find another.

“It practically destroyed his life and his reputation,” Smith said.

“If you’re a professional executive director of a nonprofit organization and you’re accused of embezzlement, you’re not working in that industry anymore, and that’s what happened,” Smith said.

In her petition, Gilliland cites the Nation’s “stigma” of criminal charges as one of the reasons for her family’s move to Poland.

The petition states that after resigning from the Cherokee Nation Foundation, she was subsequently fired from her job in 2016 as Bacone College Foundation Director and was unable to find meaningful employment thereafter.

The petition also states that the family moved to Poland so that Gilliland’s husband, who is from Poland, could get more affordable healthcare for a medical condition.

Gilliland served as executive director of what was then called the Cherokee Nation Education Corporation beginning in 2009.

Gilliland left the organization in 2013, even staying there for a few months after he intended to leave at the request of the agency’s board, according to Smith.

An independent audit carried out in 2014 on the financial situation of the agency was followed by the filing of charges.

In 2016, Cherokee Nation prosecutors filed a nine-count complaint and information against Gilliland, alleging various fraudulent expenses on her behalf while she was executive director.

The bulk of the fees come from travel expenses paid by Gilliland with funds from the Cherokee Nation Foundation between 2011 and 2013.

As for travel expenses, Smith said the agency’s board cleared them all, never raising concerns about “irregularity.”

Asked about expenses billed to the Cherokee Nation Foundation on behalf of family members, Smith said Gilliland’s family members participated in the programs that Gilliland touted on behalf of the nonprofit organization.

“These family members were part of the programs she was putting in place and were approved by the board,” Smith said.

For example, Smith said that two children she traveled with on occasion were participants in the tribe’s immersion school since they were fluent and literate in Cherokee, so they traveled under the program and spoke from the immersion school.

Smith said Gilliland’s husband was also “part” of the immersion school and worked on her behalf while traveling with his wife.

“So there’s a legitimate board-approved business purpose for each of these people,” Smith said, adding that it wasn’t “extravagant spending.”

Gilliland was released on her own recognizance after appearing in Cherokee Nation District Court after the charges were filed.

Gilliland moved to Poland in 2018, according to court records.

In March 2019, Cherokee Nation prosecutors added six more counts against Gilliland, accusing her of illegally giving herself raises, paying a business owned by her husband with foundation funds and d award scholarships to people who were not eligible, or in at least one case, even apply for the scholarship.

The lawsuit names as defendants Cherokee Nation District Court Presiding Judge T. Luke Barteaux, Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill and Cherokee Nation Special Prosecutor Ralph Keen II.

The Cherokee Nation, through a spokesperson, declined to comment on Gilliland’s petition, citing ongoing litigation.

The Cherokee Nation, for its part, argued in documents filed in tribal court that the charges were proper and legal.

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