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More Plea Deals Struck in Chippewa Corruption Case

The corruption probe already has netted guilty pleas from multiple tribal officials

BILLINGS — Two more defendants in a sweeping corruption investigation into Montana’s Chippewa Cree tribe have agreed to plead guilty to federal charges, according to court documents filed Monday.

Former Chippewa Cree tribal council member John “Chance” Houle agreed to plead guilty to bribery, theft and obstruction of justice, court documents show.

Former Chippewa Cree tribal rodeo association vice chairman Wade Christopher Colliflower agreed to plead guilty to a single count of theft and aiding and abetting theft.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ordered change of plea hearings for Houle on Dec. 8 and for Colliflower on Dec. 9.

Additional charges against both men would be dropped if the court approves the agreements between the defendants and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Attorneys for Houle and Colliflower could not be reached for comment.

The plea deals, filed in U.S. District Court in Great Falls, resulted from an investigation by federal prosecutors targeting the misuse of government stimulus money on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation in northern Montana.

The corruption probe already has netted guilty pleas from multiple tribal officials and the consultants and companies awarded contracts for work on the reservation.

According to prosecutors, Houle received $306,987 between 2009 and 2011 in exchange for contracts he awarded Hunter Burns Construction Co., which was partly owned by James Eastlick Jr., a former psychologist at the reservation’s health clinic who previously pleaded guilty.

Houle also was accused of embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from a bank account for the Chippewa Cree Rodeo Association. Houle and another tribal member disguised the payments to look like legitimate rodeo expenses, prosecutors said, and he received cash and money to buy a vehicle for his daughter, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors also said Houle fabricated documents to make the transfers appear legitimate once the defendants learned of the federal investigation.

The three felony charges against Houle each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Prosecutors said they will recommend that Houle be allowed to serve his sentences concurrently with one another if the plea agreement is accepted.

In Colliflower’s case, court filings by prosecutors indicated that he assisted the embezzlement scheme by making kick-backs to Houle from rodeo-related payments put into a bank account controlled by Colliflower. Of the $100,000 that Colliflower received into the account, he kicked back $30,000 to Houle, according to prosecutors.

Colliflower faces a maximum of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. No sentencing recommendations were included in his plea agreement.

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