Posted: May 7, 2013 8:01 PM by MTN News
Five people were arraigned in federal court in Great Falls on Tuesday, May 7th, on several charges involving the alleged theft of money from the Chippewa Cree tribe.
The people charged are Tony James Belcourt, 41; Hailey Lee Belcourt, 35; John Chance Houle, 47; Mark T. Leischner, 46; and Tammy Kay Leischner, 42.
The charges include conspiracy to defraud the United States; theft of federal monies; theft from an Indian Tribal government receiving federal funding; money laundering; receipt of stolen money in interstate commerce; and scheme to defraud the the United States and the Chippewa Cree Tribe/wire fraud.
The issue first made news in March 2013 when the Chippewa Cree Business Committee announced it was looking to remove Chairman Ken Blatt St. Marks.
While the committee claimed it was a matter of gross misconduct on St. Marks' part, he says the tribe wanted to oust him for questioning why millions of tribal dollars have disappeared from a federally-funded project.
The tribe received $33 million dollars in federal funding between 2009 and 2010 for construction of a $360-million dollar pipeline.
Chippewa Cree Construction Corporation CEO Tony Belcourt headed that project.
In a press release on Tuesday, the tribe reports it has suspended all those involved without pay, and says that, "The Chippewa Cree Tribal government is taking all necessary actions to ensure total compliance with accepted accounting and procurement standards within all tribal departments and we, together with our federal partners, are investigating all claims of financial improprieties."
The defendants pled not guilty to the charges and are currently released on special conditions.