By Tim Eberly
A Fort Belknap man pleaded not guilty Thursday in federal court to a charge that he sexually abused a 4-year-old girl while he worked as a baby-sitter through a tribal program.
Gerald Rider, 38, an enrolled member at the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, pleaded innocent to a charge of abusive sexual contact. Rider, who faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release if convicted, has a pretrial hearing scheduled for Thursday.
"I'm innocent. It didn't happen," Rider said Monday when reached at his place of employment. "It's probably a misunderstanding that got blown out of proportion."
Fort Belknap authorities forwarded a complaint about Rider, 38, to the FBI in Havre on March 15.
Rider was employed as a child-care provider through the Fort Belknap child-care program, beginning in 1998. He was removed in 2001, said Robert Fox, manager of the child-care program.
"He's real mild-mannered," Fox said. "I guess I was real surprised when I found out about" the complaint.
One child Rider babysat he took care of at least 10 children during his time with the program told her parents that Rider had touched her inappropriately, the FBI said.
"At this point, it's still" not a conviction, said Ben Speakthunder, president of Fort Belknap's tribal council. But, Speakthunder added, "The safety of children, that's a priority. That is why we have a standard of strict background checks."
Nothing came up on a background check on Rider before he was hired, Speakthunder said. "Of course, we want to have safeguards. And if changes need to occur, it will happen," he added.
Rider has no criminal record as a sexual offender.