MUSKOGEE — Once the top elected official in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, former Principal Chief George Phillip Tiger is now heading to federal prison after pleading guilty earlier to bribery.
U.S. District Judge Ronald White sentenced Tiger on Thursday in Muskogee federal court to serve one year and one day in prison for his role in a bribery scheme involving another tribe. Tiger’s attorney had asked for no prison time because of health issues the former chief is facing.
“Mr. Tiger took advantage of the position of trust he had been given by the people of the Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town,” U.S. Attorney Brian J. Kuester said in a written statement. “Instead of acting in the best interests of those he was appointed to serve Tiger sought out and received unlawful profit for himself.
“This office and the agencies who have been involved in this investigation are committed to identifying, investigating, and prosecuting those who corrupt the positions of trust and authority they hold.”
Tiger, who was the Muscogee (Creek) chief from 2011-2015, pleaded guilty to one count of bribery Sept. 13 in connection with his acceptance of nearly $62,000 while he worked in a part-time job for another tribe.
Tiger, 70, admitted accepting multiple bribes between September 2017 and February 2019 from Aaron Dewayne Terry while Tiger was chairman of the Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town Economic Development Authority Board.
The AQTT is a federally recognized Indian tribe located in Oklahoma with an enrollment of 461 members. The AQTT-owned business entities focus primarily on federal contract procurement in Huntsville, Alabama, according to federal prosecutors. The tribe’s headquarters are in Wetumka.
The payments to Tiger were meant to influence or reward decisions he made regarding the tribe’s business transactions.
Tiger apologized to the tribe, friends and family members during his sentencing hearing.
“I failed to listen to my heart and the teachings of my elders,” Tiger said.
Tiger’s attorney had hoped her client would receive probation rather than prison time.
In a motion for a variance from the recommended sentencing guidelines, the attorney cited her client’s health as a factor weighing toward probation rather than incarceration.
“The physical health of this defendant provides legitimate basis to question the need for incarceration to achieve any criminal punishment goals,” the motion states.
Carla Stinnett, Tiger’s attorney, told White that her client has several ailments, including diabetes, hypertension and anemia. A recent scan indicated that he either has a mass on his brain or has had a stroke previously, she said. An MRI was pending, she said.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons would have unspecified “difficulties” in treating Tiger’s health condition, her motion says.
Stinnett also wrote in the motion for probation that her client had an “exemplary employment record and record of prior good works culminating in his service to the people of his tribe.”
“This crime represents a marked deviation by the defendant from an otherwise law-abiding life,” she wrote.
Rather, Stinnett appeared to cast blame on Terry.
“If anything, it is clear from the evidence in this case that defendant, more or less, was acted upon by a different bad actor and failed to take appropriate action to stop said actor’s advances,” Stinnett wrote.
Terry, 64, of Wichita Falls, Texas, was sentenced later Thursday in the same court to a four-year prison term and ordered to repay $1.25 million to the Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town. Terry had pleaded guilty earlier to multiple charges, including conspiracy to commit bribery and two income tax-related counts.
Terry was also ordered to pay $105,068.58 in restitution to the IRS. He will serve three years of supervised release after he is released from prison.
A grand jury indicted Tiger on the single bribery count in August 2019 as he was in the midst of a failed campaign to win back the principal chief post.
Tiger won his first term as principal chief in 2011 before losing a reelection bid in 2015 to James Floyd, who did not seek another term.
Tiger finished eighth out of 10 candidates in the September 2019 election for principal chief. Tiger’s guilty plea, which invalidated his ability to hold tribal elected office, came too late for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Election Board to remove his name from the ballot.
David Hill went on to win the principal chief election in a December runoff over Bim Steven Bruner.
After his release from prison, Tiger will have to serve two years of supervision by the U.S. Probation Office. He was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.
Tiger has until Sept. 14 to report to federal prison to begin serving his term.
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