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Crime

Former Blackfeet Tribal Operations Manager Admits to Theft of COVID-19 Relief Funds

James Cameron McNeely, 43, of Browning, admitted to stealing $78,000 from the tribal government that employed him

By Beacon Staff

The former operations manager for the Blackfeet Nation pleaded guilty Wednesday to stealing more than $78,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funding from the tribal government.

James Cameron McNeely, 43, of Browning, admitted to the federal offense at a hearing in U.S. District Court in Great Falls before Chief Judge Brian Morris. According to court filings by U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich, McNeely stole the money by fraudulently submitting requests for repayments to the tribe after falsely claiming to buy COVID-19 supplies.

McNeely faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. The court will determine a sentence based on federal guidelines and other statutory factors.

McNeely was released on his own recognizance pending sentencing, which is scheduled for June 6.

In court documents, the government alleged that from about October 2021 until October 2022, McNeely, while employed as the Blackfeet Tribe’s operations manager, “submitted requests for repayment to the tribe, and received such payments, after falsely claiming to purchase COVID-19 supplies on behalf of the tribe from Amazon.”

“In reality, McNeely never purchased the supplies, and he was not entitled to the money he claimed and received, which totaled approximately $78,415,” according to a Wednesday press release announcing the guilty plea.

The tribe reimbursed McNeely with checks issued from the bank account containing American Rescue Plan Act funds, which were allocated to the tribe following a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, records state.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan G. Weldon is prosecuting the case. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General and Blackfeet Law Enforcement Services conducted the investigation.

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