Two Fort Belknap women were sentenced in federal court Friday to three years of probation and ordered to pay fines and nearly $10,000 back to the federal assistance programs from which they embezzled.
Dawn Cecilia Jones and Jennifer Ann Doney were indicted Dec. 19 for stealing the money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and General Assistance programs administered in Hays for Fort Belknap Indian Reservation members. The charges stemmed from an investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana Mike Cotter’s Guardians Project intended to investigate and prosecute fraud and embezzlement in Indian Country.
Jones and Doney pleaded guilty in March to theft from an Indian tribal government receiving federal grants.
Friday, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Great Falls sentenced both to three years of probation and ordered them to pay $9,912 in restitution and ordered each to pay a $1,000 fine.
Jones and Doney pleaded guilty to, while working in the Hays distribution office, taking unclaimed checks that should have been voided and also issuing checks on accounts that should have been closed. The two kept the accounts active on the tribal TANF database in order to issue the checks.
The two then would cash the checks at a Hays grocery store where Jones worked, with Jones cashing the checks while she was on shift.
The investigation began when the store’s owner called the Hays administration office to say Jones was cashing checks that apparently were stolen from the program.
Guardians Project has indicted and prosecuted a string of embezzlements and fraud related to Indian Country in the last year-and-a-half.
That includes a string of cases on Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, some in separate cases with conspiracies by people in multiple schemes and some in separate actions by other people. Several people indicted in Rocky Boy cases have pleaded guilty or been convicted.
Doney and Jones are the only defendants in cases involving Fort Belknap to date.