The Yurok Tribe is alleging that it fell victim to a conman who bilked the tribe of $250,000 as it pushed to finance the opening of its new Redwood Hotel and Casino in 2014.
In a letter last month to tribal members, Tribal Chair Thomas O’Rourke Sr. explained that, in an effort to fund staffing and operational start-up costs for the casino in the spring of 2014, the tribe set up an arrangement to borrow $8 million from the nonprofit Humanitarian International Services Foundation, run by Charles “Duke” Sheehan, a 70-year-old maybe doctor based in Cumming, Georgia. Under the terms of the agreement, on June 8 the tribe deposited $250,000 into an escrow account that was supposed to fund “due diligence fees” and help pay financing costs, according to the letter. The problem was that four days earlier, unbenknownst to the tribe, Sheehan had been indicted by a federal grand jury for running a fraud scheme in Georgia and Ohio.
When Sheehan failed to make good on his promise to deposit the first $1 million of the arranged $8 million loan into a tribal account, the Yurok council began making inquiries and learned that its $250,000 had been wired out of the escrow account immediately after it was deposited.
The tribe has forwarded this information on to the Del Norte County District Attorney’s Office, which has launched an investigation, according to chief investigator AC Field, who described the alleged fraud as akin to getting an email from a Russian emissary looking for help getting $50 million into the United States and asking folks via email to deposit $5,000 into an overseas account. “We’re looking into it,” Field said, adding that he’s been in contact with federal agencies about the case. “I’m going to give this 100 percent and we’re going to see what we can do. But it definitely has its challenges for a local investigator because of the jurisdictional issues that we face.”
Field said he’s not aware of any other local victims in the case.
In May, Sheehan was sentenced to serve 36 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to a single count of securities fraud in a case that saw him pilfer $1 million from Westbury Funding, a Cincinati, Ohio religious group seeking to finance a real estate project in 2009. In that case, Sheehan was acting as the principal of the nonprofit Southern Foundation for the Advancement of Arts and Education, which, according to federal tax documents, was headquartered in Sheehan’s Cumming, Georgia, condominium.
The deal was that Westbury would invest $1 million to get $40 within a year’s time. According to the documents, Sheehan claimed the foundation had about $5 billion in assets, though tax documents show it was actually more than $400,000 in debt at the time. Sheehan told Westbury that if it invested $1 million, his foundation pool that with $30 million of its funds to leverage billions of dollars in markets in London and Germany, ultimately funneling $1 million a week back to Westbury for a span of 40 weeks. Westbury never saw any of that money because, according to federal prosecutors, Sheehan immediately withdrew its $1 million, keeping $250,000 for himself and using the balance to pay various debts.
Court documents in the case indicate Sheehan strung Westbury along for more than a year, promising repeatedly that payments were imminent, contingent on some transaction processing in some far-away place.
The tribe’s chances of recouping the allegedly heisted funds don't look great. Court documents indicate Sheehan has no substantial assets, and he’s already been ordered to repay the $1 million he pocketed in that deal. And it will be three years before the then 73-year-old is to be released back into society. In the meantime, the court has ordered that if Sheehan is able to secure a prison job during his incarceration, he’s to pay $25 per quarter toward his $1 million obligation. If he lands higher-paying prison work, he’s to devote 50 percent of his earnings toward the debt.
Natt said Masten — who served as the primary point of contact between Sheehan and the council — was also defrauded in the personal loan she arranged with him, losing the $5,500 she put down to facilitate the deal. Even after Sheehan's group missed its initial deadline to turn the first $1 million of the loan over to the tribe, Natt said she and the council maintained faith, which lasted for months as Sheehan "strung" them along. It wasn't until the council learned of Sheehan's indictment and pending case, Natt said, that the council finally figured it had been swindled.
If the allegations facing Sheehan are true, it would mark the second time in the last five years that the Yurok Tribe has seen someone make off with tribal funds through fraud or embezzlement. Back in 2012, the tribe was rocked with news that its now former forestry director and a local biologist successfully conspired to bilk the tribe of almost $900,000 through a scheme of fraudulent work orders and invoices. (Read more about that here.)
Moving forward, according to O’Rourke’s letter, the tribe will work to keep its members informed about the criminal investigation. “We will provide you with the policies and procedures which will prevent this type of fraud from occurring against the tribe in the future,” O’Rourke says, concluding his letter to tribal members.
Meanwhile, Field said he’s in the process of trying to secure search warrants in other states to track the movement of the tribe’s $250,000 and Sheehan’s finances. Field said he also believes there are multiple suspects in the case whose conduct needs to be investigated.
On Saturday, July 25, 2015 an autopsy was performed on Lam’s body at the Humboldt County Coroner’s Office by a Forensic Pathologist. The results of the autopsy were Lam’s injuries were not consistent with a fall, as previously reported by witnesses. Cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to the head. The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office is investigating Lam’s death as a homicide.
On Saturday, July 18, 2015 at 12:48 p.m. a Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Deputy responded to Jerold Phelps Community Hospital in Garberville, regarding a possible male assault victim, who had arrived at the hospital by ambulance. Hospital staff told the deputy that the male victim, who had been identified as 37 year old Khanh Lam was unconscious with a severe head injury and was in critical condition. Lam was flown to an out of area hospital for treatment, because of his injuries.
Deputies and CHP Officers then responded to a possible location where Lam was injured, which was located in the 700 block of Locust Street, Garberville. Deputies spoke to witnesses who reported that Lam was involved in an argument with a female subject and attempted to remove her child from a car. At some point during the argument (4) four males subjects confronted Lam. According to the witnesses Lam took off running and the (4) male subjects, along with their dogs started to pursue Lam on foot. At some point during this incident it was reported by a witness that Lam possibly fell while he was running and received a head injury from falling to the ground. When witnesses found Lam lying on the ground unconscious they dialed 9-1-1.
On Sunday, July 19, 2015 at about 5:00 p.m. a medical doctor informed the Sheriff’s Office that Lam is currently on life support and has no brain activity. Lam’s family has been notified and is consulting with medical staff on their decision to take Lam off life support. Lam is from Atlanta, Georgia.
The Sheriff’s Office is considering this a suspicious death investigation and is asking for the public’s help if anyone witnessed this incident. They are encouraged to call the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office or Detective Jennifer Turner at 707-268-3642.
Anyone with information for the Sheriff’s Office regarding this case or related criminal activity is encouraged to call the Sheriff’s Office at 707-445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEFrom Rio Dell:
On 06-05-15, Humboldt County District Attorney Investigators arrested Kevin Harralson for two counts of PC243(e)(1) – Battery upon a cohabitant, and one count of PC417(a)(2) – Exhibiting a firearm. Harralson, a police officer for the City of Rio Dell, was taken into custody without incident and with the cooperation of the Rio Dell Police Department . He was booked at the Humboldt County Correctional Facility where bail was set at $100,000.00. The arrest was the result of an ongoing investigation by the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office regarding incidents in August 2014 and March 2015.
City of Rio Dell Places Officer on Administrative Leave
On Friday June 5, 2015 investigators with the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office arrested Officer
Kevin Harralson of the Rio Dell Police Department related to allegations of two misdemeanor counts of
domestic violence and one misdemeanor count of brandishing a weapon. Officer Harralson was arrested
without incident in cooperation with Rio Dell officials.
Officer Harralson has been placed on administrative leave pending a personnel investigation and the outcome
of the charges from District Attorneys Office. All questions related to criminal charges should be referred to
the District Attorney’s Office.
UPDATED PRESS RELEASE—-DRIVER AND VEHICLE INVOLVED IN VEHICLE VS. PEDESTRIAN FATAL TRAFFIC COLLISION HAVE BEEN LOCATED
The vehicle and driver from this morning's vehicle versus pedestrian traffic collision have been located. Today at approximately 1215 hours, the involved driver contacted the California Highway Patrol to report she believed she had been involved in an early morning traffic collision on US-101 south of the Herrick Avenue Overcrossing. Subsequent investigation by the California Highway Patrol confirmed the involved driver was 27 year old, Meredith Q. Bayer of Rio Dell, CA, and the involved vehicle a 2000 Ford Crown Victoria. This comprehensive investigation is ongoing and more information will be released when available.
PUBLIC ASSISTANCE REQUESTED: FATAL HIT-AND-RUN TRAFFIC COLLISION ON US-101 SOUTH OF HERRICK AVENUE
On May 24, 2015, between the hours of midnight and 0400, a male pedestrian was struck by an Ford passenger vehicle in the southbound lanes of US-101 south of Herrick Avenue Overcrossing. After the collision, the involved vehicle fled the scene in an unknown direction. At approximately 0600 hours and upon daylight a citizen passerby observed a pedestrian down in the center divide just south of the Elk River Bridge. Personnel from the California Highway Patrol - Humboldt Area responded to the scene, along with fire and ambulance personnel. The pedestrian, whose name is being withheld pending family notification sustained fatal injuries as a result of the collision.
The involved vehicle has been identified as a Ford passenger vehicle, possibly dark in color. The vehicle sustained damage to the front end, hood, and possibly windshield. The vehicle damage included broken front lighting equipment and it is missing the left side view mirror.
The California Highway Patrol is seeking information from anyone who may have information regarding the involved vehicle, the involved vehicle occupant(s), or the circumstances of the collision. Members of the public with information are requested to contact the CHP at the following numbers:
DURING REGULAR BUSINESS HOURS: Contact the CHP - Humboldt Area office at (707)822-5981.
AFTER HOURS OR ON WEEKENDS: Contact the CHP - Humboldt Communications Center dispatch at (707)268-2000.
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