Another defendant has entered a plea deal in cases alleging fraud and embezzlement at Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, this time in cases with some prominent codefendants.
James Howard Eastlick Jr. of Havre has reached a plea agreement with the federal prosecutors that will involve a plea in one of two cases that allege he and others defrauded the government and stole federal funds allocated for projects at Rocky Boy. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris vacated the trial set for April 15 and scheduled a change-of-plea hearing for Eastlick on May 1.
His co-defendants include former state Rep. Tony Belcourt, D-Box Elder, also a former Chippewa Cree Tribe council member and, when the alleged embezzlement took place, CEO of the Chippewa Cree Construction Corp.Belcourt’s wife, Hailey Belcourt, is a co-defandant in one case and Hunter Burns of Box Elder and his construction company, Hunter Burns Construction LLC, are defendants in both cases.
Eastlick Jr. was 49-percent owner and manager of Hunter Burns Construction at the time of the alleged actions.
In the motion filed Thursday to change his plea, Eastlick’s lawyers said details of the agreement, including with charges not yet filed, are not completed but they anticipate it will take about 30 days for charges to be prepared and filed and discussions on the agreement to be finalized.
The cases are among a series of indictments at Rocky Boy and other Montana Indian reservations stemming from investigations by The Guardians Project, initiated by U.S Attorney for the District of Montana Mike Cotter to coordinate federal agencies in investigating fraud and embezzlement in Montana’s Indian Country.
Another defendant, Garcia Duran, pleaded guilty last year to embezzling money while working at the Rocky Boy Clinic. March 11, Morris sentenced him to three years of probation and ordered him to pay $7,674.43 in restitution and a $100 special assessment.
Fawn Tadios, former CEO of the Chippewa Cree Health Board, also is charged with embezzling, including charges that she used stolen money to visit her husband, Raymond “Jake” Parker, while he was in federal prison camp for embezzling from the Chippewa Cree Tribe.
The Belcourts also are charged in other embezzlement indictments, including one with co-defendants James Howard Eastlick and Tammy and Mark Leischner, Eastlick Jr.’s father, sister and brother-in-law, all from Laurel.
Another includes charges against former Havre school board chair Shad Huston.
In the cases against Eastlick Jr ., the first indictment charges that he, the Belcourts and Burns conspired to award contracts to Hunter Burns Construction Company to do work on the regional pipeline on which Chippewa Cree Construction is the lead contractor, and Burns and Eastlick paid bribes back to the Belcourts.
In the second indictment, the government charged Eastlick, Burns and Tony Belcourt with the construction company filing a false claim 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.