LAGUNA PUEBLO (KRQE) – The Laguna Development Corporation got its first inkling that something was missing the summer of 2013. Over the course of many months, it became clear to the corporation that the ATM in the Route 66 Pit Stop was coming up short.
By the early part of last month, the scope of the problem was clear: the ATM was very short, and 30-year-old Marshall Cheromiah, an employee of the corporation who worked at the Pit Stop, was very rich.
The first estimates pegged Cheromiah’s haul at a few thousand dollars. That rose quickly to half-million dollars. Then, the count when up to $750,000. As of Thursday, it appeared he had stolen somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million intended for the ATM at the Pit Stop, KRQE News 13 has learned.
The money belonged to the Laguna tribe.
Neither the Laguna Police Department nor officials from the Laguna Pueblo tribe would discuss the case.
But four sources with knowledge of the case provided details of how investigators believe Cheromiah stole the cash and what he did with it.
Cheromiah was an assistant manager at the Pit Stop, and he was responsible for calling the Bank of Albuquerque to stock the ATM, according to the sources. A courier would bring the cash to the gas station — just off Interstate 40 about 40 miles west of Albuquerque — and give it to Cheromiah.
Most of the deliveries were around $20,000, the sources said. After the courier left, Cheromiah would stuff about half the cash in his clothing, then stash it in a drawer. The rest went into the ATM.
As time went on, Cheromiah spent significant amounts of the stolen case, according to the sources. He bought more than 100 pairs of Air Jordan tennis shoes, and he gambled in a neighboring tribe’s casino.
He also took a trip to Las Vegas, Nev., the sources said. He took 22 friends along with him, and they stayed at the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino.
Cheromiah reasoned that staying at somewhere more upscale — such as the Belagio in the heart of the Vegas Strip — might have set off alarm bells about where the money had come from, according to the sources.
He also gave away thousands of dollars to friends, the sources said. The friends had seen Cheromiah winning at the casino table games in New Mexico and in Nevada, so they were none the wiser about how he had come into so much money.
By October, authorities were on to Cheromiah, the sources said. Tribal police sought assistance from the FBI and set up surveillance cameras in the Pit Stop.
One day, Cheromiah saw investigators at the store. That night, one of the cameras captured video of Cheromiah stealing $32,000, according to the sources. Within a day, Cheromiah resigned from the Laguna Development Corporation, where he had worked since 2010.
On Oct. 26, authorities executed a search warrant and found $60,000 in cash that was meant for the ATM, the sources said. Laguna PD arrested him.
The corporation issued a statement confirming that Cheromiah had been arrested and charged in tribal court with theft.
The sources said he quickly bonded out of jail and is now staying with family members. He has pleaded not guilty to the theft charge.
The FBI is assisting in the ongoing investigation into the alleged theft, and Cheromiah could face additional charges — both tribally and federally.
News 13 has learned that other LDC employees were disciplined for their roles in the missing money; at least one was fired.
Cheromiah, through his Albuquerque-based attorney, declined to comment on the case.
Skip Sayre, chief of marketing and sales for the corporation, said he couldn’t account for why it took so long to catch on to Cheromiah’s alleged scheme.
But Sayre put into perspective how the alleged theft has impacted the tribe.
“It’s been taken obviously very hard,” he said. “It’s been difficult for both the company and the community.”