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Sentencing set in Blackfeet embezzlement scheme

 

January 10, 2014



HELENA (AP) — Prosecutors are recommending no prison time for a Blackfeet woman who pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme to defraud and embezzle from a federally funded program for troubled youth on the northwestern Montana Indian reservation.

Charlotte New Breast is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge Brian Morris on a charge of aiding and abetting theft from an organization receiving federal grant funds.

New Breast, 53, was the administrative assistant for the now-defunct Po'Ka Project, which collected $9.3 million in federal support from 2005 to 2011.

Project leaders and consultants are accused of stealing an estimated $195,000 from the program and making up or embellishing the tribe's in-kind contributions to ensure the federal money kept flowing.

Five other defendants, including project leaders Francis Onstad and Delyle "Shanny" Augare, have pleaded not guilty to a total of 37 criminal counts.

The defendants engaged in "wanton pillaging" of the program for troubled youth paid for with a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Assistant U.S. Attorney Car Rostad wrote in a court filing.

But because New Breast was a small player in the scheme and provided "substantial assistance" to prosecutors, Rostad is recommending a sentence of three years' probation, including six months of home or community confinement.

"But for the benefits she provided to the government in disclosing information and agreeing to testify about the crimes of other actors, and her indisputably minor role in the scheme, she should have taken her rightful place in line for the consequences of accountability; a line that would have included incarceration," Rostad wrote.

New Breast's attorney, Jeffry Foster, said New Breast agrees with the sentencing recommendation and asks that she be allowed to go back to work at the Blackfeet Community Wellness Center.

Foster, in an interview with The Associated Press, declined to say what kind of information New Breast provided prosecutors, but he wrote in a court filing that she processed fraudulent receipts, invoices and time sheets for Onstand and Augare.

Project funds were also embezzled through vendors who took extra money and then made payments back to Onstad and Augare, Foster wrote.

The tribe was supposed to provide $7 million in in-kind contributions over the life of the project, but the project leaders found it impossible to meet that amount and began misrepresenting contributions until the program collapsed, Foster wrote.

New Breast received little direct benefit from the program, Foster said. Just meat and potatoes from a shopping trip Onstad took to Great Falls using Po'Ka funds, and reimbursement for food and lodging after she stayed in Boise, Idaho, a few extra days to attend her son's graduation, he said.

"That's the sum total of the personal gain," Foster told the AP.

Foster also is asking the judge not to impose a fine.

"Charlotte is by far the least culpable of the defendants in this case, and her share of the restitution should be reflected in the judgment of this court," he wrote.

 

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