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A former Winnebago Tribal Council member -- one of nine indicted last summer in an alleged conspiracy to steal from the tribe’s casino -- has pleaded guilty.

Lawrence Payer is the first former council member to make a plea in the case. A second former council member, Louis Houghton, is set to issue a plea for his role in the alleged theft at a May 22 hearing in Omaha.

Last July, a federal grand jury indicted nine former Winnebago council members, charging each with conspiracy, theft and misapplication of funds belonging to an Indian gaming establishment, and wire fraud. Those council members included: Payer, Houghton, John Blackhawk, Darwin Snyder, Thomas Snowball Jr., Travis Mallory, Charles Aldrich, Morgan Earth and Ramona Wolfe.

As part of his plea agreement, Payer only admits to misapplying funds belonging to an Indian gaming establishment. If the court agrees to his plea agreement, the other charges against Payer -- including conspiracy to steal casino funds and wire fraud -- would be dropped.

He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the remaining charge, though the U.S. Attorney’s Office has recommended he be sentenced to five years of probation and be ordered to repay any funds he obtained illegally from the casino.

According to the federal indictment, the defendants granted themselves funds from the WinnaVegas Casino without accounting for them through the tribe’s payroll department or approving their distribution at a regular tribal council meeting.

The distributions to defendants were paid through the use of casino gift certificates and pre-paid debit cards paid for by the casino.

The total amount of gift certificates issued to the defendants in 2013 and 2014 was $87,000. The total amount loaded to the debit cards of the defendants in 2013 and 2014 was $240,500.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7225 or kabourezk@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJS_Abourezk.

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