Former Chippewa Cree Tribal Chairman Pleads Guilty To Bribery, Embezzlement, Obstruction Of Justice And Tax Evasion
GREAT FALLS – Former Chippewa Cree Tribal Chairman John Chance Houle, 50, of Box Elder, pleaded guilty today to four felonies involving bribery, embezzlement, obstruction of justice, and tax evasion, according to the United States Attorney’s Office. Houle had been charged in four indictments handed down by a federal Grand Jury investigating corruption in Indian Country. Houle appeared before U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Great Falls to enter the guilty pleas.
Houle’s sentencing on the four felonies is set for March 19, 2015, at the Missouri River Courthouse in Great Falls.
Houle pleaded guilty to accepting kick-back payments from Hunter Burns Construction in exchange for facilitating the award and payment on tribal contracts. In an offer of proof filed by the United States Attorney’s Office, prosecutors told the court that if they had taken the case to trial the evidence would have shown that in the 28 month period between July 28, 2009, through November 30, 2011, Houle received $306,987 from the construction company and James Eastlick, Jr., a clinical psychologist with the Rocky Boy Health Clinic who was a 49% owner of the construction business.
In another indictment Houle pleaded guilty to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Chippewa Cree Rodeo Association. As President of the Rodeo Association, prosecutors told the court, Houle arranged to have payments made to nominee vendors with the understanding that a large portion of the payment would be kicked back to Houle. According to court records, the government would have proven that in 2009, Mark Leischner, Eastlick’s brother-in-law received $135,000 in checks from Houle and Colliflower, and kicked back to Eastlick approximately $53,000. For 2010, Leischner received $133,000 in checks from Houle and the CCRA, from which $62,000 was provided to Tony Belcourt for purchase of a residence in Box Elder. Leischner’s “cut,” as agreed to by Houle, was to be $45,000. In 2010, and then in 2011, Houle also used Bear Paw Indian Rodeo Association President Wade Colliflower as a beneficiary of Chippewa Cree Tribe Rodeo Association payments, a portion of which were then paid back to Houle in cash. Colliflower is scheduled to enter a guilty plea tomorrow for his role in the embezzlement scheme.
In that same indictment Houle was also charged with and pleaded guilty to obstruction of a federal grand jury investigation. The offer of proof filed by the government indicated that when investigation into the payments to Leischner began, Houle, Eastlick and Mark and Tammy Leischner met on several occasions to manufacture documents that would give the appearance of legitimacy to the payments to Leischner. In 2013, a federal grand jury subpoenaed Leischner’s records and he provided the fraudulent documents in response to the subpoena.
In the third indictment, Houle pleaded guilty to one of four counts of tax evasion. As part of his plea agreement with the United States, Houle agreed to pay the taxes on his undeclared income from Hunter Burns Construction, Eastlick, Leischner, and Colliflower. In the four tax years 2009 through 2012, Houle had over $412,000 in undeclared income from those sources, and agreed to pay $121,219 to the Internal Revenue Service as part of the plea agreement. The United States advised the court that there was almost $230,000 in undisclosed income from other sources on which tax liability may have been evaded, but that the investigation was halted when the agreement was reached.
The case was brought by the federal agents of the Guardians Project and was investigated by the agents of the Offices of Inspector General of the Departments of Interior, Health and Human Services, and Environmental Protection Agency, as well as by the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division.