- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) - A former Choctaw Nation construction director has been sentenced to 12 years in prison in a bribery and tax fraud case in Oklahoma.

Jason Merida was sentenced Monday and also must pay restitution to the IRS and the Choctaw Nation, The Tulsa World (http://bit.ly/1I85Gxk ) reported. He was convicted in November on two counts each of theft and tax fraud and one count each of conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit bribery.

Prosecutors said contractors used false billing practices between 2008 and 2011 while construction was underway at the tribe’s Durant and Pocola casinos. Money generated from the false billings was used to make campaign donations and purchase gifts.

Merida testified he had received gifts from several vendors, including Builders Steel, but argued that it didn’t affect his decision making because he did not have the authority to select contractors.

Among the gifts he received and didn’t declare on his tax returns were hunting trips to New Mexico and Missouri, $20,000 in cash and more than $40,000 in home fixtures. He also got a 2009 Cadillac Escalade, two Kawasaki Mules and tickets to a Dallas Cowboys playoff game.

Two other co-conspirators, former Builders Steel executives Brent and Lauri Parsons, have been sentenced to 60 months and 46 months, respectively.

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Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com

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