By Tim Eberly
A Havre woman has been sentenced in U.S. District Court in Missoula after pleading guilty to embezzling from the Chippewa Cree Tribe at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.
Paula Raye LaMere, 36, admitted to fraudulently issuing checks totaling $65,541 and cashing them while she was working as an accounts clerk for the Chippewa Cree Health Board finance office.
LaMere, an enrolled member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe, was sentenced Wednesday to five years of probation, 100 hours of community service and three months of house arrest. She also is required to pay back the stolen money.
"She's stuck between a rock and a hard place," said Bruce Sunchild, vice chairman of the Chippewa Cree tribal council and a member of the Health Board Committee. "If she can't find employment, she can't pay restitution."
The Havre FBI, which teamed with the Office of Inspector General while investigating LaMere, said she took the money over a two-year period, from September 1997 to late 1999. LaMere was taking the money from grant programs.
"Our initial reaction was that it shouldn't be happening here, and we hope it doesn't happen again," Sunchild said. "She did it in a way that wasn't detected right away."
A fellow employee reported to Sunchild and members of the Health Board Committee that LaMere was stealing money, which prompted the committee to conduct an audit of the Health Board's finances.
"When we found out about it, we turned it over to an auditor," Sunchild said. "And when the auditors found out she had taken the money, we turned it over to the authorities."
The Health Board provides administration for health care services to tribal members and their dependants, and is funded by federal grants, contracts and settlements.