In an article published around the world by the Associated Press (AP), Dec. 11, Bondi voiced her opposition to the “destination resort” casino bills now before the state legislature by tying gaming to criminal activity. The article said Attorney General Bondi “contended that recent drug trafficking convictions in Hillsborough County showed that drug money wound up being routed through the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa.”
I am very disappointed to hear one of our top Florida government leaders come forward with such a statement that is so damaging to the reputation of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. I am disappointed the AP would publish this statement without checking its accuracy or even contacting us for our comments. Unfortunately, because of the fact it came from the Attorney General and was published by AP, untold numbers of persons who see this will believe it is true.
As long as I have been Chairman, since way back in 1979, and during the years I was out of office, I have never seen any information, whatsoever, come across my desk about money laundering, involving any individuals, including outside drug traffickers or even our own staff. At the first inkling of such activity, we would have immediately reported it and took strong measures to expose and stop this crime.
With all due respect, Attorney General Bondi must know that everything the Seminole Tribe does regarding gaming is watched with intensity. By our very nature as sovereign American Indian gaming operators, all of Seminole Gaming, from our small hometown operation in Brighton to our tall Hard Rock Hotel & Casinos in Tampa and Hollywood, is scrutinized by more eyes at more agencies than any other gaming enterprise in the state.
I’m talking about the U.S. Department of the Interior-Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) and, yes, State of Florida auditors, themselves!
All members of our staff who handle money receive periodic comprehensive training when they first start and every six months after that to make sure our facilities are not used for illegal activities. All gaming staff is made familiar with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and taught regarding compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). We participate in several regular, mandated audits, including independent financial audits conducted by the NIGC and State of Florida, as well as our own in-house audits. Our Hard Rock Gaming facilities are audited by Deloitte, the world’s leading casino-auditing firm.
In all these years the Seminole Tribe has conducted Gaming, since 1979, no audit has ever found any fraud, theft, embezzlement or large variances of any kind.
We have absolutely no idea where Attorney General Bondi’s information is coming from. If this charge is true, then this criminal action was missed by the FBI, the BIA, the IRS, the NIGC and the State of Florida, as well as our own professional security. If Bondi’s statement is factual, then why didn’t she alert us? Why, we went to dinner with Gov. Rick Scott, very recently, right in his own house, and he never mentioned anything, not a word, about any such money laundering charge.
It is disturbing to us for such a serious charge to come out of nowhere through the mouths of such high-ranking leadership as the Cabinet of the State of Florida without any regard to the high potential for damaging the Tribe’s reputation and the reputation of its businesses. The Seminole Tribe prides itself on running a clean operation and paying our bills on time. We remain extremely sensitive to our relationship with the State of Florida and adhere exactly to our responsibilities as detailed in our gaming compact with the state.
Even in these highly charged political times, we expect the state to treat us with the same respect.
James E. Billie is Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Publisher of the Seminole Tribune.