News and Press Releases

Bonita Rose Plenty Horse Pleads Guilty in U.S. Federal Cour

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bill Mercer, United States Attorney for the District of Montana, announced today that during a federal court session in Great Falls on April 21, 2009, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sam E. Haddon, BONITA ROSE PLENTY HORSE, a 34-year-old resident of Browning, pled guilty to theft from an Indian tribal organization. Sentencing is set for August 3, 2009. She is currently detained.

In an Offer of Proof filed by the United States, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:

Between January 7, 2008, and May 5, 2008, forty-six fraudulent checks totaling $62,270 were written off the accounts of the Blackfeet Tribal Credit Department, an agency of the Blackfeet Tribe tasked with providing short-term loans - to a maximum of $1,500, to qualifying tribal members.

A.G.R. was a staff employee of the Blackfeet Tribal Credit Department, B.J.A. was a Treatment Admissions Clerk for the Crystal Creek Lodge Treatment Center and C.H. was an Administrative Assistant at the Blackfeet Tribal Credit Department.

The scheme began when A.G.R. and B.J.A. approached tribal members and, in exchange for a portion of the fraudulent loan proceeds, had them fill out a short-term loan application. These "nominee borrowers" were tribal members - generally friends, relatives or co-workers of the three - who would agree to have their names used to complete loan applications and to transact a tribal check representing the proceeds of the loan in exchange for a share of the proceeds. Nominees would be assured that they would not be called upon to repay the debt to the tribe. A.G.R. would process the applications, knowing that there was no bonafide need on behalf of the borrower for a loan and no intention to have the loan repaid. The processed loan would then be forwarded to the Blackfeet Tribal Treasurer who, believing that the applications were legitimate loan requests from qualified borrowers, would sign a tribal check for the amount of the loan. A.G.R., B.J.A., or C.H. would then have the nominee sign the tribal check and split the proceeds. A.G.R. would then shred all of the paperwork at the Credit Department so there was no record of the check being issued.

As the scheme progressed without discovery, the conspirators began taking shortcuts to expedite the thefts. A.G.R. would steal blank tribal checks from stock on hand at the Credit Department. The checks were then completed using either a Credit Department typewriter that A.G.R. had removed from the office, or a second typewriter he borrowed from a friend. Both typewriters were later analyzed by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service forensic laboratory and determined to be the mechanical source of fraudulent checks. Several previously unknown fraudulent checks were discovered from the ribbon of the second typewriter.

A.G.R. would then forge the signature of the Blackfeet Tribal Treasurer to the fraudulent check. The check would be negotiated and the proceeds divided up between the principals and the nominee. Thirty-two of the forty-six checks contained the Treasurer's forged signature.

PLENTY HORSE received four checks as part of the scheme. The first on March 21, 2008 for $900, two checks on April 23, 2008 (one for $850 and the other for $1,500), and the fourth check on May 5, 2008, for $980, for a total of $4,230.

PLENTY HORSE faces possible penalties of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and 3 years supervised release.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl E. Rostad prosecuted the case for the United States.

The investigation was conducted by the Inspector General's Office for the U.S. Department of the Interior.

A copy of the Offer of Proof can be obtained by contacting Sally Frank at (406) 247-4638.



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