GREAT FALLS — In another twist in what was supposed to be a change of plea hearing, the federal government said in a hearing in Great Falls Thursday that it would file a motion to disqualify Shad Huston's attorney because he had represented a “star witness” in a related case last year.
Huston, a Havre businessman and former chair of the Havre school board, withdrew his offer Thursday in federal court to change his plea. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris set his trial on charges of bribery and embezzlement at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation for Sept. 29.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Rostad told the judge he would be filing a motion to disqualify Missoula attorney Michael Sherwood, who is representing Huston, because he represented Rocky Boy tribal council member John “Chance” Houle in a Rocky Boy embezzlement case in 2013.
The charges against Houle in that case were dismissed last September.
In a complex interrelated plea agreement, four others charged in last year's case pleaded guilty to charges in that or other cases. Tony and Hailey Belcourt, who were among the four, were sentenced in federal district court in Great Falls Thursday and James Howard Eastlick Sr. of Laurel is scheduled to be sentenced today.
Houle was indicted on new charges this year in three different cases. The trial dates for Houle in those cases are Dec. 8, Jan. 20 and Feb. 2.
Huston was indicted in 2013 in a different case alleging a different set of bribes and embezzlement and indicted in two new cases this year. One of those also indicted former Rocky Boy tribal council chair Bruce Harold Sunchild.
Judge Brian Morris, during the discussion of a motion to disqualify Sherwood Thursday, asked Rostad when Houle became a key witness.
“As of Tuesday,” Rostad said.
Sherwood said he and Rostad had been negotiating on the plea agreement through Wednesday night, but were unable to come to “a meeting of the minds.”
Rostad said the government had anticipated a plea agreement in all three cases, but the sides were unable to come to an agreement.
He said the government will continue to prosecute the 2013 case, alleging Huston paid kickbacks to obtain contracts dealing with the reconstruction of the flood-destroyed Rocky Boy clinic, but will move to drop the charges against Huston filed in 2014, one alleging he used one of his businesses to take payments from Rocky Boy agencies and disburse them to tribal members. The other charge was that after he took a $300,000 check drawn on clinic insurance proceeds issued by Tony Belcourt, he issued a check to Sunchild which Sunchild used to purchase a vehicle, in repayment for Sunchild approving the $300,000 check.
When Huston said he was withdrawing his offer to change his plea, Morris asked what had happened to the plea agreement.
Rostad and Sherwood said they had not been able to come to an agreement, though Sherwood said they had negotiated through Wednesday evening and they thought more dialogue might resolve the differences.
But Rostad requested the judge set a trial date.
Morris said the time for negotiations was done.
“This case has lingered far too long,” he said.