Our View: Justice should trump mercy in Rocky Boy sentencings


August 11, 2014

U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris will this week begin imposing sentences to defendants in the ongoing Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation scandal.

He faces many difficult decisions as he balances compassion for the criminals vs. justice for the many victims.

Let’s begin with the fact that there are too many people in jail. Many prisons are filled with people who could be better rehabilitated outside of prison walls and who could provide better service to the public by performing community service or being held under house arrest.

Is this a case where justice could be better served by more lenient sentences?

Let’s examine the facts.

From a clinical sense, the defendants are charged with defrauding the federal government in that they embezzled funds from federal projects.

In reality, they stole not from some power on high, but they stole vital services from the people of Rocky Boy,

In a series of bribery and kickback schemes, the money that ended up in the defendants’ pockets was designed to provide pure water to the reservation. It was intended to improve health services to an area that is suffering from poor madical care and shorter life spans than virtually any area of Montana.

The money was allocated to Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation to help lift residents from poverty and a sense of helplessness.

That’s not to say that those guilty of these crimes have not participated in tremendous service to their communities.

Tony Belcourt did meritorious service for the district he represented and for all of Montana when he was a Democratic member of the Montana House.

He was a passionate and effective supporter of causes that would have lifted people out of poverty and given hope to people where hope is in short supply.

Belcourt worked across the aisle with Republicans in a time when bipartisan cooperation was virtually nonexistent in Helena.

Dr. James Eastlick for years operated the underfunded health clinic on the reservation, providing medical care when there was always more need than money.

But the charges they have admitted to are very serious.

If a young punk were caught selling meth on the reservation, you can be certain he would be facing a long, hard sentence in federal prison — a sentence he probably richly deserved.

As egregious as selling meth might be, we believe Rocky Boy suffered a lot more from the criminals in the recent scandal.

Residents were deprived of services they desperately need.

Young people who could have turned to some of these people as role models are now, we fear, more disillusioned than ever.

Rocky Boy residents who were looking to their leaders to help build a strong, more financially stable community have been let down once again.

The good people of Rocky Boy have one more time been slapped in the face — this time by people who have been elected and appointed to represent them.

They have been told that “everybody does it,” and, with a shrug of the shoulders, “mistakes were made.”

Well, if indeed everybody does it — and we don’t believe that for a minute — that’s one reason Judge Morris should slam the hammer down. He should make it clear that the next person who does has some serious answering to do.

The money stolen will be replaced, but we fear the dark suspicion that this case has caused among the folks on the reservation will last for years to come.

We hear the cries for mercy, but the calls for justice ring a lot louder and a lot more clearly.

The idea of seeing people locked up, separated from friends and relatives sickens us. But the idea of seeing the reservation plundered sickens us more.

The judge is the judge, and he will make the decision. But we can only offer this advice:

Throw the book at ’em, judge.


Reader Comments

rbcitizen writes:

Well there they GO! Water Resource Dep. and Housing Authority Dep. seem to CAN'T finish a project... But they sure can take tribal monies and run off to Crow pow-wow.. a Big water project on the hill, can't get it done... 40 to 50 empty homes on the Rez.. can't repair em.. all this waste. what a shame..

aimprez59521 writes:

With over 60 press releases and statements to the people,2 1/2 yrs of taped radio shows,which led us to where we are at,you will be more suprised to read what you havent when i get my book done.I once told the tribal council in a meeting that thier actions were writing this book and I didnt have to do anything at all but sit here,watch,complain,write and SIGN all i put out there.Thats a lot of background history there above,documented by the time stamps and date in the radio shows.No liable suit

ugh writes:

stop giving the reservations money. Stop calling it a reservation. Let it become just another town. Let them support themselves.You can do it guys. Be adults

Willy writes:

I have been very crtical of the HDN over the past couple of years, but these articles they have written on the corruption at Rocky Boy has been some of their best work. I am sure that Montana will be on that top 10 corruption list next year, it takes a little time for these things to get on a list like that. I think the BIA needs to come in and take charge or get rid of the few thiefs and you will be fine. Sure miss Bob Swan.

123out writes:

Just throw the book at them, Tony did this Tony did that, all he did was line his own pocket book and his families, just look at his ranch and all the cows he has, all this should be ceased by the Tribe and sold to pay back all these monies he stole, not let him make time payments, they stole all that money make them pay it back, as for the other council members, indictments, feds should just hurry up and finish up with these crooks.

fosho writes:

Really Really?? Tony has helped more people around here than most. What have you ever done for your community besides complain and never do anything about it? Get a life Really

EthicalReporter writes:

To the -reporter- who wrote this: Well, if indeed everybody does it — and we don’t believe that for a minute — Maybe you should try doing 5 minutes worth of research before spewing your tabloid garbage journalism. But then again, that might be too far out of your realm. Maybe start with these articles: The 10 Most Corrupt States in The U.S. http://fortune.com/2014/06/10/most-corrupt-states-in-america/ Study: Government corruption rampant worldwide http://www.cnbc.com/id/100871669

really writes:

Tony Belcourt did meritorious service for the district ? He was reaching across the aisle to the republicans to get more funds for projects on the reservation where he would be in control of the money. Doesn't seem to meriorious when you are trying to line up another pot of funds to dip into.

EthicalReporter writes:

Not sure who writes these -Our View- articles published in the Havre Daily News since they are published anonymously but if they're written by HDN reporters, I would classify them as biased and unethical. Havre Daily News views or opinions are irrelevant. The unprofessionalism and slant printed by HDN in relation to these cases has been ridiculous. The Belcourts should have their lawyers look into slander and malicious gossip charges against HDN. HDN is acting as prosecutor, judge and jury.

aimprez59521 writes:

When I ran for chairman over a decade ago,I said meetings online was the place to go for meetings.All the big corporations use it or one simular. My 2nd option was to send the council on a rotation basis,3 at a time,getting a recorder to bring back to the others to watch and also refresh themselves as most dont show up in the first place.That would have at least saved 2/3 of the travel monies. I always wonder how much would have been saved if I had got to do one or the other....

Victor writes:

The more $ stolen, the less the sentence. Huck got a year in jail for about $20,000, Burns gets 2 months in jail for at least $300,000. Maybe Belcourt will get a suspended sentence and a new job at the tribal office. Team Redskins, Rent-A-Tribe, corruption, our leaders have come a long way from DC audiences with the Prez, now they meet at the GF courthouse with Judge Morris. A friendly reminder folks, be really careful where you mark that ballot this fall.

Godzilla writes:

As long as there are federal dollars being embezzled then the feds have every right to be involved.

aimprez59521 writes:

I agree with rb citizen,in that the book should be thrown at them.I do not agree with the other saying the feds should stay out of it,for that is why we are in the this situation in the first place. No accountability and transparency like i was asking for on KNMC90.1 Fm for 2 and 1/2 yrs.Untill it is SHOWN that stealing from the poor people of Rocky Boy doesnt pay,the holding pattern as we still see it occurring,will keep that way.Do not FORGET that 2 elders and me were jailed for asking things.

waste writes:

The fraud and waste of government aid continues on the good old Rocky Boy Reservation. Just this week councilmen, program and project directors are planning travel to Crow Fair under the guise of important departmental meetings in Billings. Please do throw the book at them your honor, anything less is a travesty of justice.

yeppers writes:

the current guys in there are basically in a holding pattern while they try very hard to 'have mercy' on their friends who did wrong. this is known and nothing is done about it, just let them do what they want. this has got to stop somewhere and voters still await the fed for justice. 'Where's the justice' they ask? its simple, until justice is served by the people of rocky boy, they will not learn a thing. I for one believe the fed should walk away, leave the people to themselves.

rbcitizen writes:

to think about it, this is just beginning, there is more thieving out here than one will begin to think. It's still going on today as I write this.. SO yeah, bi-god, Mr. judge YOU THROW THE BOOK-AT-EM


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