Melanie Benjamin, removed in 2008 as chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe after it was discovered she used thousands of dollars in tribal money for improvements to her home, was charged this week with theft and misconduct in connection with more than $52,000 in illegal casino "comping" privileges.
The charges, filed this week in Mille Lacs District Court, involve Benjamin's use of a high-roller card she inappropriately obtained for goods and services such as meals, hotel rooms and bingo cards at the Mille Lacs Grand Casino and the Hinckley Grand Casino from March 2004 through August 2008, said Rjay Brunkow, the band's solicitor general. The three criminal charges include theft of property or services, misconduct of a public officer or employee and misconduct of a public official or employee.
The charges are separate from a federal investigation that uncovered a massive fraud within the band's Community Development Department that involved tribal building projects.
The band's own investigation showed Benjamin used falsified invoices to get the tribe to pay for about $21,000 in work on her home, including a $1,600 replica French toilet and an $800 waterfall faucet. Benjamin denied any wrongdoing.
So far, two men have pleaded guilty in that case, Brunkow said. "We expect others will be indicted," he said.
MARY LYNN SMITH