Tribal Council disciplines former cannabis board member

Tribal Council disciplines former cannabis board member

A former Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians official and cannabis board member accused of soliciting favors  from a contractor that was negotiating a contract with the tribe’s cannabis enterprise will pay a fine and face a ban on future appointments to tribal positions, Tribal Council decided in a vote Thursday, Jan. 4. 

Only two members of the 12-member council declined to vote in favor of the resolution, and they did so because they felt the penalty wasn’t strong enough.

“I want to abstain from this vote,” said Painttown Rep. Dike Sneed. “I don’t want to take part in setting precedents for somebody committing this crime and such a small fine. It’s a smack on the wrist for what was done, so I don’t want any part of it.”

The resolution formally accepts and adopts the Office of Internal Audit and Ethics investigation containing the allegations against Jeremy Wilson, who during the timeframe in question was appointed as the tribe’s governmental affairs liaison and sat on the board for Cherokee Medical LLC, which is now known as Qualla Enterprises LLC.  

It also fines him $4,000 and prohibits him from being appointed to any position within tribal government or to any enterprise, board or commission of the tribe for five years from Aug. 3, 2023, when the Internal Audit and Ethics report was released. Additionally, he and any business entity of which he is a principal is banned from entering into any contracts for goods or services with any entity, enterprise, board or commission of the tribe, also for five years from the report date.

Text messages sent by Wilson were central to the report’s conclusion that Wilson had solicited gratuities and favors from cannabis contractor Sovereign Solutions Carolina, which later contracted with Qualla Enterprises for professional services in launching the tribe’s cannabis business. These texts included May 12, 2022, messages to SSC’s principal that thanked him for “the help,” said Wilson had “got some debt paid down,” and promised that “you’ll get your money’s worth out of me.” A June 4, 2022, message asked “if the financial assistance is still in play” and said, “I really don’t mind paying you back through profits made from working with your team down the road.”

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In a September interview with The Smoky Mountain News, Wilson said that, despite what the reported text messages imply, no favors were exchanged. Noting that the report includes only portions of selected messages and not entire conversations, he said he had fallen on hard times and turned to the SSC principal, who he considered a personal friend, for emotional support and advice.

When asked for comment on Council’s recent decision, Wilson said he was “disappointed,” because an identical resolution introduced in September, prior to the seating of the newly elected Council, had been withdrawn.

“This has been inaccurate, one-sided and personal from the beginning,” he said. “However, a decision was made, and it is done. I gave everything to make that project happen, so I wish it the best.”

The resolution now awaits action from Principal Chief Michell Hicks.  

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