The prosecution has dropped charges against one defendant for embezzling federal stimulus money that went to Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, but is moving forward with prosecuting the remaining five defendants.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Montana has filed an unopposed motion to dismiss all 17 charges against Chippewa Cree Tribal Business Committee member John “Chance” Houle.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Rostad said this morning the government will continue to prosecute those charges against the other defendants: Tony Belcourt, CEO of the Chippewa Cree Construction Corp. and a former Business Committee member and state representative; his wife, Hailey Belcourt; and three Laurel residents, Mark and Tammy Leischner and Tammy Leischner’s father, James Howard Eastlick.
Rostad said he could not comment on why the prosecution is dropping the charges against Houle.
The defendants are accused of forming dummy companies and using unwitting out-of-state companies to funnel money that was allocated to go to the Rocky Boy’s/North Central Montana Regional Water System. Chippewa Cree Construction is the lead contractor on the project, which stemmed from the state and federal water compact with the Chippewa Cree Tribe.
Once completed, that system will provide treated water from Lake Elwell south of Chester to residents of Rocky Boy’s reservation and to people in towns and rural water water systems across the western part of north-central Montana. The system is designed to provide water to nearly 30,000 people in this region.
Rostad said new evidence has changed some of the details of the charges, which will require again going before a grand jury to indict the five defendants. He said that is the only way for the federal government to amend its charges.
He said that while some of the details of the allegations will change, the overall charges will remain about the same.
The defendants were indicted in April on 17 counts including conspiracy, wire fraud, theft from an Indian tribal government receiving government funding, receipt of stolen money in interstate commerce and money laundering.
According to the motion to dismiss the charges against Houle, the prosecution intends to continue preparing for the case to go to trial Nov. 12.