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Tribal leaders hear Billie's defense

The five-member Seminole Tribal Council listened to the defense of suspended chairman James E. Billie on Thursday, then agreed to vote on the question of removing him from his $312,000-a-year position at a regularly scheduled meeting Monday.

Billie has been elected to six consecutive terms as chairman since 1979 and is credited with promoting gambling casinos that fostered new tribal prosperity. But the council suspended Billie in May 2001, citing a sexual harassment suit against the longtime leader and questionable spending uncovered by an audit.

Last month, the council called for Billie's permanent removal with a list of nine charges, most related to a secret operation in which Billie and his associates funneled $2.77-million in tribal funds to Belize and Nicaragua to set up an Internet gambling site.

Billie also is accused of misrepresenting a shift in the tribe's investment account that resulted in $20.3-million in losses, and in loaning $80,000 of his own money to former Seminole administrator Tim Cox and a partner to wage a legal fight against the tribe for control of a Nicaraguan hotel.