Attorney Bill Cornelius’ Conflicts Of Interests

Oneida Eye has previously addressed (here, herehere and here) the unnecessary conflicts of interests that have unwisely been created as a result of Atty. William “Bill” Cornelius being simultaneously appointed as:

  • Counsel for the Oneida Gaming Commission;
  • Chairman of the Oneida Seven Generations Corporation (OSGC) Board of Directors;
  • President of OSGC, which owns Oneida Generations, LLC.

As Counsel for the Gaming Commission Atty. Cornelius is supposed to represent the interests of Oneida Casino, but since he’s also required to represent the interests of the Tribally-owned corporations that he works for which have contracts with Oneida Casino (and might not be meeting all of their financial obligations to the Casino) who is the neutral legal representative of the interests of the Oneida Casino when they’re dealing with the companies Bill works for?

Besides all of the juggling of those hats which Atty. Bill Cornelius is engaged in, it’s now clear that his work as a defense attorney for family members of certain Tribal politicians and Casino executives only compounds the many conflicts of interests that his several roles unreasonably create.

For example, the Oneida Business Committee is the body that appoints Atty. Cornelius to the OSGC Board, so there would obviously be a conflict of interest if he were to represent them or their immediate family members in criminal cases.

Yet that’s exactly the situation created by Atty. Cornelius acting as defense attorney for Tribal Treasurer Tina Danforth’s daughter in Brown County Case Number 2008CT1685.

Atty. Cornelius began representing Tina’s daughter in November 2008, three months after Tina was sworn in as Treasurer and thereby held OBC’s purse strings regarding monetary requests by OSGC.

More recently it was Treasurer Danforth who somehow ‘found’ $750,000 in the Tribe’s General Fund to provide to law firm Godfrey & Kahn for OSGC’s legal fees in their failed lawsuit against the City of Green Bay. (Does that mean no Family Carnival again next year?)

Likewise the Gaming Commission Counsel has an inextricable relationship with Oneida Casino General Manager Louise King Cornelius which requires avoiding the appearance of conflicts of interest. Yet the General Manager has final approval over contracts which at least one OSGC-owned enterprise (Oneida Generations, LLC) has received.

Beyond that fact, Atty. Cornelius served as criminal defense attorney for the Casino General Manager’s daughter just last year in Brown County Case Number 2012CM1579.

The specifics of the charges in those criminal cases don’t matter. What matters is that by concurrently acting as…

  1. Gaming Commission Counsel,
  2. President & Chair of Tribally-owned corporations whose board members are appointed by the Business Committee and which have contracts with the Oneida Casino that the General Manager has final approval over,
  3. Defense Attorney for family members of the Tribal Treasurer and the Casino General Manager,

…Atty. Cornelius’ actions unwarrantedly create conflicts of interest that make the Tribe and its corporations seem totally oblivious to – or intentionally dismissive of – the vital need to maintain professional standards of propriety and clearly defined lines of interest.

Atty. Cornelius should not, by any reasonable standard of professional ethics, be performing any two – let alone all three – of those tasks at the same time, and it was certainly his responsibility to have known better than to act as defense attorney in criminal cases on behalf of family members of the Business Committee and Casino executives given his other positions.

It’s simply a matter of having the decency to reassure Tribe members and the public that the Oneida Tribe’s Government, Corporations and Casino understand and accept the need to avoid conflicts of interest rather than unnecessarily and unjustifiably create them.

And here’s why Oneida Eye maintains that Atty. Bill Cornelius should be disqualified from serving as Gaming Commission Counsel:

The Oneida Gaming Commission is responsible for determining if individuals are worthy recipients of a Gaming License which is required to be employed by the Oneida Casino, whether that be as a floor manager, a blackjack dealer, a cashier or a custodian. If you don’t meet certain standards – specifically honesty and a lack of disreputable associations – you need not apply for employment with the Casino.

  • Wrote a couple of bad checks and got caught? No gaming license.
  • Roommate ran an an illegal sportsbook & poker club in your apartment and got caught? No gaming license.
  • Walked out of a store with a candy bar in your pocket without paying and got caught? No gaming license.

The Oneida Business Committee should immediately seek the removal of Atty. Bill Cornelius as Gaming Commission Counsel because his multiple roles call into question the integrity and scrupulosity of Oneida gaming operations and the perceptions thereof, internally and externally, which negatively impacts the Tribe’s morale and reputation.

In other words, Atty. Cornelius is making the Tribe look bad to itself and others.

The ongoing failure by the Business Committee to redress these matters despite the fact that they’ve been repeatedly alerted obviously raises questions about their integrity as well.

And now we know that at least one OBC member – Tribal Treasurer Tina Danforth – may have personal motives to ignore the problem or try to prevent necessary changes.


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