Tony Belcourt signs plea agreement
Fourth Rocky Boy theft defendant set to plead guilty
March 26, 2014
Another defendant in a string of cases alleging fraud and embezzlement at Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation — this one a Chippewa Cree Tribe official and former state legislator — has agreed to plead guilty.
Chippewa Cree Construction Corp. CEO Tony Belcourt, a former tribal council member and former Democratic state representative, signed a plea deal filed in federal court Tuesday, in cases alleging bribery and fraud and embezzlement of money intended to build a new multi-million dollar clinic and a project to provide water to 30,000 Montanans.
Belcourt’s wife, Hailey Belcourt; psychologist James Howard Eastlick Jr., a former CEO of the Chippewa Cree Health Board; and Hunter Burns, Eastlick’s partner in Hunter Burns Construction, also are scheduled to change their pleas.
Plea agreements have not yet been filed for Hailey Belcourt or Eastlick Jr.
Trials still are pending
for defendants in some cases filed against the Belcourts, including Eastlick Jr.’s father, sister and brother-in-law, James Howard Eastlick Sr. and Tammy and Mark Leischner, all of Laurel, and former Havre school board chair Shad Huston.
The first Rocky Boy case filed, against the Belcourts, Leischners and Eastlick Sr., also indicted Chippewa Cree Business Committee member John “Chance” Houle, a former chair of that council. Those charges against Houle later were dropped.
All of the charges stem from alleged fraud and embezzlement involving involving federal or insurance money going to construction projects on which Chippewa Cree Construction is the lead contractor.
One was the construction of a new Rocky Boy clinic to replace the clinic that was destroyed in the 2010 flood, and the other is the Rocky Boy’s/North Central Montana Regional Water Project, which is building a water treatment plant at Tiber Dam south of Chester and would distribute treated water to some 30,000 people in north-central Montana from Rocky Boy to the Rocky Mountain Front, including Havre.
Eastlick Jr. is scheduled to enter a guilty plea April 1 in federal court in Great Falls, while the Belcourts and Burns are scheduled to plead the next day.
Tony Belcourt’s plea agreement says he has agreed to plead guilty to a charge of theft from an Indian tribal government receiving federal funds in the case also charging his wife, the Leischners and James Howard Eastlick Sr, and to a count of of bribery in the case also charging Hailey Belcourt, James Howard Eastlick Jr. and Hunter Burns.
The agreement says the prosecution will move to dismiss the other charges against Tony Belcourt in those two cases and a case against him and Eastlick Jr. and Burns alleging fraudulent claims filed about Hunter Burns Construction’s work and in an indictment yet unsealed alleging tax fraud.
Indictments, including the names of the people charged, are sealed in federal court until the defendant is arraigned.
The plea agreements refer to the case involving the Belcourts and Huston and the 2014 tax fraud case, saying the prosecution will recommend that the sentences in all of those cases would run at the same time, “and (with sentences in) any other cases resolved by plea prior to sentencing.”
Each of the charges to which Belcourt has agreed to plead guilty carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and three years of supervised release, a maximum $250,000 fine and mandatory restitution.
In Hunter Burns’ plea agreement, he agreed to plead guilty to a charge of conspiracy to violate the False Claims Act, and all other charges in both cases filed against him last year would be dismissed.
The plea agreement says the maximum sentence for that crime is 10 years in prison and three years supervised release and a $250,000 fine, and that the parties have agreed that Burns’ mandatory restitution would be $100,000.
The cases came about as a result of investigations of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana’s Guardians Project, with more Rocky Boy-related cases stemming from those investigations still pending.
Former health board and clinic CEO Fawn Tadios, who is representing herself at trial following her firing four court-appointed attorneys, is charged with embezzling money while head of the health department. That includes a charge she used health board money to pay for trips to visit her husband, Raymond “Jake” Parker, while he was in a federal prison camp in North Dakota.
Parker was serving a sentence for embezzling from the tribe while chair of the tribal council.
A case alleging Wilford Harlan “Huck” Sunchild stole money while working for the health board also is pending.
Garcia Duran pleaded guilty last year to stealing from the health department and March 11 U.S. District Judge Brian Morris sentenced him to three years of probation and ordered him to pay $7,674.43 in restitution and a $100 special assessment.
The Guardians Project, which also has led to unsealed indictments — and guilty pleas in some cases — on the Blackfeet, Fort Peck and Crow reservations, is spearheaded by Montana U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter. In the project, federal agencies cooperate in investigating fraud and embezzlement in Montana Indian Country.