Former Rocky Boy health director guilty on all counts, sentencing Oct. 9
GREAT FALLS — A jury in federal court in Great Falls Thursday apparently didn’t buy Fawn Tadios’ claims that using tribal money for personal use was a common, accepted and legal practice at Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation.
The jury announced it had reached a verdict at 1:41 p.m ., barely one-and-a-half hours after leaving the courtroom to deliberate, convicting Tadios, 52, former head of the Chippewa Cree Tribe’s health care system, on all three embezzlement charges.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris released Tadios pending sentencing, which he set for Oct. 9. She faces up to 10 years in prison for theft from an Indian government receiving federal grants and for theft from a health care facility and five years for theft from an Indian tribal organization, and up to a $250,000 fine for each of the three convictions.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Rostad said the government had no objections to Tadios’ release, due to the nature of the crimes and the fact that she had reliably appeared for all court actions.
Tadios and her attorney, E. June Lord, and Rostad all declined to comment on the verdict, although Tadios said she would like to arrange an interview to talk about the proceedings.
Personal use of public money
Tadios billed the tribe or health care system for part, all, or even more than, the cost of at least six trips to visit her husband, Raymond “Jake” Parker, in Yankton, South Dakota, while he served out a 16-month sentence for embezzling from the tribe while chair of its governing council.
Special Agent Kelly Earl of the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services testified that Tadios on some occasions “double dipped,” for example using a hotel receipt as a claim against her cash travel advance and also billing the tribe for using her tribal credit card for the same hotel room. Earl testified that she had identified more than $11,000 in tribal funds Tadios had used for trips to visit Parker in South Dakota.
Witnesses testified that the $11,000, which included $1,300 to pay for a detour flight to South Dakota on the way back from a trip to New Orleans, paid for two hours of work in a visit to a health care facility near Yankton on one trip. The rest of her time in South Dakota Tadios spent at the prison camp virtually all of the time allowed for visitation, Lt. Tim Engel of the prison facility testified.
Tadios: Common, accepted practice
Tadios herself testified in her defense Thursday and said the practice of using tribal funds for personal trips, then paying them back through payroll deductions, was a common, accepted and even written in tribal policy practice.
When asked if she intended to deceive anyone or embezzle from the tribe, Tadios said she did not.
Rostad said the fact that the requests for travel advances did not list the actual purpose of the visits — they were listed as visits to health care sites rather than “to visit Jake,” he said — showed she did intend to deceive someone.
He said the fact that she had not arranged to pay back the cost of the trips before she was fired — Tadios first trip to visit Parker, using a tribally owned vehicle, was in December 2011 and she lost her job in June 2013 — shows she did not intend to pay the tribe.
“She had gotten away with it,” he said in his closing arguments.
John “Chance” Houle, a member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe’s Business Committee and Parker’s nephew, testified for the defense Friday morning.
Houle, who was indicted on embezzlement charges in three cases himself June 19, said he approved her using the vehicle in December to attend a meeting in Billings then go on to Yankton. Allowing members of the tribe to use tribal vehicles was in the tribal policies, he said.
He said tribal employees were allowed to use up to $1,000 in tribal funds for personal travel if they set up a payroll deduction plan to pay it back and it was preapproved.
When Rostad asked him if board approval for official trips assumed the trip was in some way connected to the mission of the health care system, he said, “Correct.”
Tadios testified that the practice of using tribal funds then paying them back was common unwritten practice when she started at Rocky Boy in 2008, first as an unwritten practice then it was added to the tribe’s policy and procedure.
Rostad noted in his closing statement that no evidence was presented at trial showing the practice was part of Rocky Boy’s policies.
Use of tribal funds
Tadios gave an example of using tribal funds to take care of problems. She said that during one of her trips to South Dakota, Havre psychologist James Howard Eastlick Jr ., who was CEO and director of the clinic before her, was covering her duties for her.
Former tribal council Chair Bruce Sunchild contacted Eastlick to request emergency funds to provide care for some of his relatives over the weekend, Tadios said. Eastlick obtained a loan from his business partner, Havreite Shad Huston, to pay for the care. The tribe then issued payment to Sunchild’s relatives, who used it to pay back Huston, she said.
When he cross-examined Tadios, Rostad pointed out that all of the people named in that example, as well as Houle, have pleaded guilty, are scheduled to plead guilty or are facing trial on embezzlement charges.
He asked Tadios why her husband was in prison, and she said, “theft,” eventually confirming after continued questioning that it was for theft by using a tribal credit card for personal purchases and cash advances.
“And that did not give you pause?” he asked about her using tribal credit cards and cash advances to visit Parker in prison.
Expenses in helping family members
Lord asked Tadios about her need to borrow money for her trips and through other sources, such as loan programs through the tribe or through Eastlick Jr.’s loan program at the reservation, all of which were paid back through payroll deductions.
Sobbing at times, Tadios talked about her helping people and the Native American custom of helping family members. She said she continued to pay for her house in Washington state after she moved to Rocky Boy and her mother moved into her house, helping her son after he lost his job due to injuries sustained in a car crash, buying vehicles and otherwise helping her and Parker’s children, including helping pay for her daughter’s college education in Missoula.
“It’s nice to live the American dream and see your daughter go to college, so those are things I did,” she said.
Tadios said her gross income at her termination was $114,000, with a net of $79,000.
Rostad asked her why, then, her federal tax returns for several years showed a gross income of near or more than $150,000.
Tadios said that was because she had taken her retirement plans out each year, which she said was allowed for tribal employees.
“It’s about accountability”
Rostad said that by September 2012 Tadios was borrowing money “from all kinds of places … so much money it’s not even funny,” and was using tribal funds to pay for visits to the South Dakota prison, rather than using her accrued personal leave time.
But using the tribal funds was different than using the loan programs, he said in his closing arguments.
“This was not a legitimate source. This was embezzlement,” Rostad said.
He said the prosecution was not asking for judgment on Rocky Boy customs or practices or Tadios’ personally, but about her taking public funds for personal use.
“The people of the Chippewa Cree Tribe deserve an honest government as much as anyone else … ,” Rostad said. “It’s about accountability.”