Blackfeet Program Leaders Sentenced in Fraud Case

Employees sentenced for roles in defrauding the federally funded Blackfeet Indian project

By Tristan Scott

The leaders and two employees of a Blackfeet Indian project for troubled youth were sentenced Tuesday for their roles in defrauding the federally funded program.

Francis Onstad and Delyle “Shanny” Augare pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to defraud the U.S., conspiracy to submit false claims, embezzlement from a federally funded program and income tax evasion.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris sentenced Augare to 3 ½ years and Onstad to just over two years in prison, and he ordered them both to pay $1 million in restitution.

Onstad was the director and Augare the assistant director of the Po’Ka Project, which received $9.3 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services starting in 2005. The program, which was supposed to be funded completely by the tribe over time, has been defunct since the federal money ran out in 2011.

Six people in all have been convicted in the case, which is part of a broader investigation into corruption on Indian reservations in Montana.

The defendants stole money from the program or doctored invoices to embellish the contributions the tribe was supposed to make to keep the federal grant money coming, prosecutors said.

Katheryn Sherman, the project’s coordinator, was sentenced Tuesday to a year in prison and ordered to pay $25,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to conspiracy to submit false claims.

Later that afternoon, Dorothy May Still Smoking, an evaluator for the project, was sentenced to 30 months’ probation and ordered to pay $100,000 restitution on a similar charge.

Administrative assistant Charlotte New Breast was given a probationary sentence in February and ordered to pay $50,000 in restitution.

Gary Conti, a consultant for the Blackfeet tribe, was convicted in May in the only Po’Ka case to go to trial. The retired Oklahoma State University professor kicked back more than $230,000 from payments he received to accounts controlled by the program’s tribal leaders, prosecutors said.

Sentencing has been set for Conti on Sept. 4.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.