SISSETON, S.D. (CN) – Six Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribal executives have been federally charged with embezzling more than $60,000 in tribal funds.
The federal grand jury indictment accused Carrie Godfrey, Gerald German Jr., Ann German, Calvin Max Sr., Gerald Heminger Jr., and Colette White, all members of the tribal executive board for the Big Coulee District of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe, of conspiracy, embezzlement and theft, and aiding and abetting.
According to the seven-page Oct. 6 indictment, the elected officials “did knowingly and willfully conspire and agree together and with each other to commit the offense of embezzlement and theft from an Indian tribal organization” from June 2010 to March 2013.
Though $60,000 embezzled in three years may not sound like much, about half of the Native Americans on the Lake Traverse Reservation in northeastern South Dakota have household incomes below $30,000 a year, and about 20 percent less than $10,000 a year, according to 2013 census data .
The American Indian Relief Council estimates that unemployment on the reservation is more than 50 percent. The Dakota Sioux Casino, tribal government and the Bureau of Indian Affairs are the primary employers.
The Big Coulee District “receives most of its funding from the tribe, which derives most of that money from gaming revenue,” the indictment states.
The district manages that money to fund assistance programs, such as home repair. “To be considered for a home repair or emergency repair payment, an eligible district member must complete an application and provide support for the request, such as an estimate or invoice … and proof of ownership or contract for deed for the property to be repaired,” the indictment states. Approved projects are put on a waiting list.
The defendants are accused of circumventing the process by signing off on checks for one another from the tribal fund. The checks were “purportedly issued for home repair assistance, but [were] not properly supported by an application and/or other supporting documentation,” the indictment states. “Each defendant used the funds for his or her own purposes.”
They also wrote checks from tribal funds to cover their tax liabilities on the stipends they received from the district for their work on the executive board, according to the indictment.
The defendants pleaded not guilty on Oct. 16.
The case is set for trial on Dec. 15. If convicted, they each face a maximum five-year sentence, and a $250,000 fine.
Attorneys for both sides declined comment.
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