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Top Winnebago corporation execs placed on paid leave 8-07

By ANNA JO BRATTON
OMAHA, Neb. (AP)
– The two top executives of a $100 million American Indian business were placed on paid administrative leave, a spokeswoman said.

CEO Lance Morgan said the Ho-Chunk Inc. board of directors asked him to do something, and he asked for clarification of the request.

“They said I should basically do what I was told, and that’s not my specialty,” Morgan said Thursday.

Morgan wouldn’t provide further
etails, and messages left for various board members weren’t immediately returned.

Also placed on leave was Annette Hamilton, Ho-Chunk’s chief operating officer.

Spokeswoman Janice Jessen said board member Matthew Pilcher, chairman of the Winnebago Tribe, was serving as acting CEO of Ho-Chunk. She also said the board members were in meetings and that she could not comment further.

Ho-Chunk, situated on the Winnebago reservation in northeastern Nebraska, is the economic development arm of the tribe, remarkable in the world of American Indian business because its success has had little to do with gambling, other than providing seed money from casino revenue.

The business employs 584 people in eight states, Mexico, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Morgan, a member of the tribe, returned to the reservation in 1994 to help build the corporation with $8 million in casino money.

Ho-Chunk posted revenues of $113 million in 2006, up from $22.9 million in 2000, and assets have grown to $42 million from $8 million. It recorded nearly $660,000 in net profits in 2006.

“I really think that my track record at the company speaks for itself,” said Morgan, who said he hoped to be reinstated. “I suspect that if all parties sat down, this could be worked out.”

Morgan graduated from Harvard Law School in 1993 and travels around the country to speak about Indian law and tribal economic development.

Morgan said he wasn’t sure why Hamilton also was suspended. She handles much of Ho-Chunk’s day-to-day business. Hamilton is a member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas.

Attempts to reach Hamilton Thursday were not successful.

Ho-Chunk, a Winnebago term that translates to “The People,” is trying to end the cycle of poverty that has plagued many reservations.

In Winnebago, median household income is around $20,000, and more than 40 percent of people don’t make enough to live above the federal poverty line.

Ho-Chunk’s board of directors acts independently of the tribal council, which keeps short-term political ups and downs from stopping Ho-Chunk’s progress, according to John Blackhawk, who serves on the tribal council.

On the Net:
Ho-Chunk Inc.: www.hochunkinc.com
Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska: www.winnebagotribe.com
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