Belcourts, former school board chair Huston accused of $100,000 payments, kickbacks in FEMA funds
Former Havre School Board chair Shad Huston, 37, is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts and then paying hundreds of thousands of dollars back to Chippewa Cree Construction Corp. CEO Tony Belcourt and his wife, Hailey Belcourt.
Details of these allegations were in indictments unsealed in federal court in Great Falls Tuesday.
They were the latest in a string of charges alleging embezzlement of federal money allocated to Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, with defendants in two different cases pleading not guilty Tuesday to all charges.
The indictment including Huston lists $36.6 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency and insurance company payments the Chippewa Cree Tribe received to replace the tribal clinic destroyed in the 2010 floods and to repair other damage from those floods.
The indictments allege the acts took place through Huston’s private businesses, primarily TMP Services and K and N Consulting, two years after he left the school board in 2009.
Tony Belcourt, a former state representative and former Chippewa Cree Tribe Business Committee member, is CEO of the Chippewa Cree Construction Corp ., the tribally owned business that acts as the prime contractor on most major construction projects for the tribe. He has been put on leave without pay pending resolution of the court cases.
Belcourt’s attorney said the government keeps piling weak indictments against his client, who he says has done all of his business openly and above board.
“This is just like magpies. If you get enough magpies, you can take down a bull elk,” attorney Chuck Watson told The Associated Press Tuesday. “The government has gotten just too used to being able to indict people into submission. It's just not going to happen in this case.”
The other indictment unsealed Tuesday brings back some people already indicted under previous charges, including Belcourt with the fourth set of embezzlement charges the government has filed against him, and James Howard Eastlick Jr. and Hunter Burns, the second indictments filed against them.
Indictments filed in September, which include Hailey Belcourt as a defendant, allege Burns and Eastlick, who was a part owner and manager of Hunter Burns Construction at that time, accepted contracts awarded to the construction company to do work on the regional pipeline on which Chippewa Cree Construction is the lead contractor and paid bribes back to the Belcourts.
The indictments unsealed Tuesday allege that after Belcourt awarded a $15,000 contract to Hunter Burns Construction, the company filed a false claim April 7, 2010, for $100,000, to be paid with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the federal stimulus bill — allocated for work on the water project.
Belcourt and Eastlick pleaded not guilty to the charges. Judge Keith Strong entered a not guilty plea for Burns, who was in the hospital and could not attend the hearing.
The government also filed notice it will seek fines against Hunter Burns Construction if the defendants are convicted.
In the indictment against Huston and the Belcourts the government alleges that:
• On May 20, 2011, Huston and his storage company, TMP Services, received a $66,670 check from Chippewa Cree Construction.
• Huston and TMP Services issued a $7,500 check to Hailey Belcourt June 29, 2011, the indictment says.
• Oct. 3, 2011, Huston transferred $10,000 to the Belcourt’s personal account, the indictment says.
• Nov. 25, 2011, Huston and TMP Services received a $231,225 check from the construction company, and the same day issued a $5,000 check to Hailey Belcourt, the indictment alleges.
• Dec. 22, 2011, Huston accepted a $300,000 cashier’s check from the Chippewa Cree Tribe for “claims prep,” the indictment says. The same day, he wrote a check from K and N Consulting to Tony Belcourt for $200,000, which Belcourt deposited into his personal bank account, the indictment says.
The same day, Huston cut a $100,000 check from his personal bank account to Tony Belcourt, which Belcourt deposited Dec. 23, 2011, the indictment says.
The indictment says the government will seek fines against TMP Services and K and N Consulting if Huston is convicted.
The indictments are the latest in a string of accusations stemming from investigations in the Guardians Project, an initiative spearheaded by U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana Michael Cotter. In that initiative, federal agencies conduct joint operations to investigate fraud and embezzlement on reservations in Montana.
Embezzlement charges previously had been filed against Rocky Boy Health Board and Clinic CEO Fawn Tadios, and another set of charges were filed against Health Board employee Garcia Duran. The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges in those cases.
The first set of indictments involving federal funds at Rocky Boy charged Tony and Hailey Belcourt and Laurel residents James Howard Eastlick Sr. and Tammy and Mark Leischner, Eastlick Jr.’s father, sister and brother-in-law, alleging they ran federal stimulus dollars through a series of transactions in organizations and companies including some owned by Tammy Leischner and Tony Belcourt to convert the money to their own use.
Business Committee member John “Chance” Houle originally was included in that indictment, but the government later dropped the charges against him. The Belcourts, Leischner and Eastlick later were arraigned and pleaded not guilty to amended charges in that case.