By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A state District Court jury found the chief operating officer of the National Tribal Development Association guilty of forging checks from the account of another business he operated.
A jury convicted Neal P. Rosette Jr., 43, of Box Elder of a felony charge of forgery by common scheme after a one-day trial Wednesday in Havre.
Rosette, who had operated the grant-writing and research business Brotherz and Sisterz Inc. with Daryl Wright, was accused of forging Wright's name on 27 checks worth $5,370 on the business' account at Bear Paw Credit Union. Rosette was not authorized to write checks on the account.
Rosette testified that Wright allowed him to sign Wright's name to the checks.
Rosette said today he is disappointed with the verdict but is glad the trial is over.
"The public should know that Brotherz and Sisterz was Neal Rosette," he said. "I never stole anything from anybody and never hurt anybody but myself and my family."
" I made some stupid decisions about my business and have to pay the consequences and get on with my life," he said.
Wright said he is pleased with the verdict.
"I'm just happy that truth finally came to light and justice was served," he said. "I know it's a hardship for their family, but my family has suffered hardships in the last 17 months."
Wright, who had been Rosette's supervisor at NTDA, was fired from that job in August 2003, according to testimony. NTDA is a nonprofit company based at Rocky Boy that provides credit outreach services to more than 250 tribes in 28 states.
Brotherz and Sisterz Inc. is in limbo, and Wright's request that it be dissolved is pending in Rocky Boy tribal court, he said.
Rosette's lawyer, Larry Jent, said in his opening statement that his client had Wright's permission to sign the checks. Wright filed a criminal complaint in retaliation because he blamed Rosette for his firing, Jent said.
"Not until Mr. Wright was fired from the National Tribal Development Association did he complain about it," he said.
Deputy Hill County Attorney Gina Bishop said in her closing argument that the issue about Wright's employment was a "red herring."
She told the jury not to be distracted by arguments about "employment, the National Tribal Development Association and other stuff."
"This is actually a very straightforward case," she said. "When he decided to sign another person's name on those checks and then cashed those checks, he committed a criminal act."
Wright and Rosette both testified that when they opened the Brotherz and Sisterz account, Bear Paw Credit Union would not let Rosette's name be on the account because of the financial problems of his family farm.
Account statements were mailed to Rosette, they said.
"To ensure that we would trust one another to some point I would sign the checks and the statements would be mailed to him," Wright said. "They just went directly to his house and I trusted him."
He said he never authorized Rosette to sign Wright's name, and didn't know about the checks until he found out in July 2003 that Bear Paw Credit Union had closed the account because of bounced checks. He asked for the last 11 checks that had been written on the account, and found that eight of them had been signed by someone else, he said.
He then asked for all checks written on the account, and found that at least 27 had been forged, he said.
Rosette said the checks bounced because Wright would transfer money out of the account without telling him. Wright could have looked at the bank statements at any time, Rosette said, because he brought them to the office after he received them and filed them in a cabinet between their desks.
"The records were there right in front of him," he said.
Rosette said he would use the checks as an advance on his paycheck. He would then deposit money to pay the advance back within a few days, he said.
"(Brotherz and Sisterz) was my business," he said.
Jent argued that Wright made a habit of having other people sign his name on documents, and three NTDA employees who also worked for Brotherz and Sisterz testified that he had done so.
"Mr. Wright had a habit of asking other people to sign his name," Jent said. "Mr. Rosette, sloppy as it might be, had permission to sign his name."
Bishop said Rosette knew he was committing a criminal act when he signed Wright's name and cashed the checks.
"He himself admitted to issuing the checks, delivering them to someone else," she said. "He knew the checks were forged."