Two employees who worked for the Blackfeet Tribe’s Head Start Program in Browning admitted Thursday in federal court to stealing money through a scheme in which an estimated $232,000 was fraudulently claimed as overtime pay, Montana’s U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme announced in a press release.
Patrick H. Calf Boss Ribs, Jr., 44, of Browning, and Theresa Marie Calf Boss Ribs, 51, also of Browning, each pleaded guilty to theft from an Indian tribal government receiving federal funding and to wire fraud.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris presided at the hearings. Morris set sentencing for both defendants for March 14. Both defendants are released on their own recognizance.
Each defendant faces a maximum 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years supervised release.
Patrick H. Calf Boss Ribs, Jr., also faces restitution and a money judgment of $33,496.46, which is the amount he received in overtime claims.
Theresa Calf Boss Ribs also faces restitution and a money judgment of $57,048.24, which is the amount she received in overtime claims.
If the case had proceeded to trial, according to Alme, the government would have presented the following information as evidence:
The Blackfeet Tribe operates the Head Start Program with funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Head Start provides early childhood education and other services for low-income children and their families.
During a 15-month period, starting in April 2013, the defendants and others falsely claimed 7,800 hours of overtime and received more than $232,000 in overtime pay from the Head Start program. When the fraud was uncovered, two different firms audited the Blackfeet Head Start program. Both audits questioned the overtime claims, identifying them as “beyond necessary and reasonable” and lacking any supporting documentation.
The Blackfeet Tribe did its own internal review, agreed it could not justify the overtime claims and repaid HHS $250,620.29 for disallowed costs and other expenses.
After an on-site review of the program by government authorities from Washington, D.C., the defendants along with others met in a conference room. Despite not actually working the hours, everyone present in the room agreed to continue claiming overtime.
Theresa Calf Boss Ribs, who was the Early Head Start manager and had other roles, and Patrick H. Calf Boss Ribs, Jr., who was the nutrition manager and payroll clerk, were in charge of monitoring the time cards. At the end of the pay period, individuals in the group would stop by to sign their time cards for the pay period.
The time cards were already completed by the defendants and included false overtime hours.
Other Head Start workers told investigators they never saw Blackfeet Head Start personnel working late nights or on weekends. The program’s board chairman was unaware of the overtime claims, identified budget cuts that were necessary during the time period of the fraud and was unaware of any needs that would have justified the overtime claims by the defendants.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Weldon is prosecuting the case, which is was investigated by the FBI and HHS.