GREAT FALLS – Ten Browning residents face federal charges after $60,000 was taken from a program that makes short-term loans to enrolled members of the tribe.
Nine of the defendants were arraigned in U.S. District Court in Great Falls Tuesday and entered not guilty pleas. The final defendant is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday.
Alex Good Rider, Clarice Hall and Bobie Jo Arnoux are each charged with conspiracy to commit theft from an Indian tribal organization, and multiple counts of theft from an Indian tribal organization.
Durand Bear Medicine, Alvin Lazyboy, Chief Holy Star Fish, Wilma Hoyt, Marty Heavy Runner, Bonita Plenty Horse and Seivert Running Crane are each charged with one count of theft from an Indian organization. Running Crane is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday.
District Judge Keith Strong said the defendants are charged with a “pattern of offenses,” but did not elaborate on the basis of the accusations.
Sandra Watts, an attorney for the Blackfeet Tribe, said Good Rider and Hall were employees of the Blackfeet Credit Department, where the thefts are alleged to have happened.
Financial discrepancies in the Blackfeet Credit Department surfaced in early 2008, prompting an internal investigation with the help of the U.S. Office of the Inspector General, Watts said.
“We believe strongly in the integrity of our people, and will fight to see that anyone is prosecuted who attempts to steal from the tribe and the people,” Tribal Chairman Willie Sharp said in a statement. “We also want to send a message to others, either within or without our tribal government, that the days of looking the other way are gone.”
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