Ex-Blackfeet Tribal leader sentenced to prison for Head Start program fraud
GREAT FALLS – The former chairman of the Blackfeet Tribe today was sentenced to 10 months in prison and two years of supervised release along with being ordered to pay $174,000 restitution for his role in an overtime pay scheme that stole federal funds from the tribe’s Head Start child assistance program, U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said.
Willie Andrew Sharp, 66, of Browning, pleaded guilty in November to wire fraud.
Sharp’s wife, Denise L. Sharp, and three other co-defendants also were convicted in the case. Denise Sharp, who was Head Start’s personnel manager, was sentenced earlier to nine months in prison.
Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris presided.
“The theft of $174,000 hurt the children enrolled in Head Start by prohibiting the purchase of books, barring the ability to obtain teaching materials and cutting food nutrition programs for those who need it most. We will continue to ensure that federal funds are used for the needs of those intended, especially children,” U.S. Attorney Alme said.
In court records filed in the case, the prosecution said Willie Sharp authorized and approved overtime at the Blackfeet Head Start Program knowing that the overtime claims were false. The falsely claimed overtime pay totaled $174,000 in federal funds for more than 5,800 hours claimed over a 15-month period.
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 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services $250,620.29 for disallowed costs and other expenses.
In addition to the Sharps, the investigation resulted in the indictment and conviction of Theresa Calf Boss Ribs, Patrick Calf Boss Ribs, Carol Bird and Allen Shane Gross.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Weldon prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.