Sisters Sentenced for Embezzlement from Indian Tribal Government
Anchorage, Alaska – Acting U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder announced that Sylvia Toolie, 60, and her sister, Peggy Akeya, 57, of Savoonga, Alaska, were sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Timothy M. Burgess for embezzling funds from the Native Village of Savoonga (“Native Village of Savoonga” or “the Tribe”), which is located on St. Lawrence Island.
Toolie was sentenced yesterday to serve eight months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Akeya was sentenced on Tuesday, Sept. 12, to a term of five years’ probation, three months’ home confinement, and 120 hours of community service. Toolie and Akeya were ordered to pay restitution to the Native Village of Savoonga in the amounts of $69,563.07 and $14,855.81, respectively. Judge Burgess also ordered Akeya to record statements for a public service announcement to raise awareness of the consequences that follow from embezzling tribal government or other public funds.
Between April 2011 and May 2012, Toolie and Akeya stole from the Tribe using their positions of trust to do so. Toolie was a full-time salaried employee of Kawerak, Inc. (“Kawerak”) who was assigned to serve as the Native Village of Savoonga’s tribal coordinator. (Kawerak is a regional non-profit corporation that provides services to tribes in the Bering Straits region.) In her position, Toolie handled the day-to-day operations of the Tribe’s office and other duties, including grant reporting and managing accounts receivable, accounts payable, and payroll. She was also entrusted with ensuring that funds provided to the Tribe were used and accounted for properly. Absent Kawerak’s prior approval, Toolie was not permitted to be paid by the Tribe at all. Toolie nevertheless used her position of trust to obtain numerous unauthorized checks from the Tribe. In all, Toolie tried to fraudulently obtain roughly $83,000 of the Tribe’s funds, and actually pocketed $69,563.07.
Akeya used her position as Secretary and unofficial bookkeeper to sign numerous unauthorized checks to herself and others that were drawn on the Tribe’s bank accounts. Akeya tried to fraudulently obtain over $25,000 in funds, and actually obtained $14,655.96.
By approximately mid-November 2011, the Tribe had run out of money despite receiving considerable federal funding in 2011. When a large check that the Tribe issued was returned for insufficient funds, that creditor made inquiries, which ultimately led to the underlying investigation and proof that the Tribe’s funds had been misappropriated for years by Toolie, Akeya, and others. For example, the investigation revealed that the funds that Toolie and Akeya embezzled were supposed to pay for, among other things, repairs to homes and public buildings in Savoonga damaged during a severe December 2010 winter storm that prompted the State of Alaska to issue a disaster declaration. Due to the suspicious payments and the Tribe’s inability to account for millions of dollars in federal funding, the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has withheld funding from the Native Village of Savoonga since fiscal year 2012.
In sentencing Toolie, Judge Burgess underscored the “exponential impact” that these crimes had on Savoonga, and he was sentencing Toolie to serve eight months in prison in part to send a clear message that stealing tribal or public funds will be met with “significant [and] serious consequences that include going to jail.”
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General (HUD OIG).