Former Chippewa Cree Tribal Chairman Sentenced to 34 Months in Prison for Bribery, Embezzlement, and Tax Evasion
GREAT FALLS – Former Chippewa Cree Tribal Chairman Bruce Sunchild, 69, of Box Elder was sentenced to almost three years in federal prison for his role in the widespread public corruption at the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation. The sentencing took place before U.S. District Judge Brian Morris today, in Great Falls.
Bribery and Theft relating to Tribal Insurance Monies
Sunchild plead guilty to bribery and theft in connection with a December 2011 transfer of $300,000 in tribal insurance funds to K & N Consulting, a company owned by Havre businessman Shad Huston.
According to prosecutors on December 22, 2011, K & N Consulting received and deposited a cashier’s check in the amount of $300,000 from the Chippewa Cree Tribe. An internal tribal document reflected that five tribal officials approved the disbursement ostensibly for “claim prep” by K & N Consulting—Chairman Sunchild, Vice-Chairman John Chance Houle, two members of the Insurance Recovery Team Councilman Ted Whitford and Chippewa Cree Construction Corporation CEO Tony Belcourt, and Tribal Secretary-Treasurer Janice Meyers. The funds were drawn on the Tribe’s bank account utilized for the Insurance Fund settlement monies that came to the tribe in the wake of flooding in 2010. No other supporting records or documents—such as invoices, itemized billing, receipts, pay requests, evidence of costs incurred or disbursements made for the work, or any other kind of standard supporting documentation—were found in a search of tribal records by employees of the Tribe.
K & N Consulting issued a $200,000 check from its business account to Tony Belcourt—noted as “consulting services” and dated December 20—which Belcourt deposited on December 23, the day following the tribal payment to K & N Consulting. From the remaining $100,000, of the $300,000 insurance check to K & N Consulting, Huston and K & N Consulting paid out an additional $57,800 to the benefit of the other three approving officials, including $24,977 paid to Tilleman Motors to clear the title and transfer Belcourt’s Chevrolet Suburban to Sunchild; $12,823 to Tilleman Motors to pay the bill on repairs and maintenance for Chance Houle’s vehicle; and a check payable to “Cash” in the amount of $20,000 with the memo section notation “Mervin Whitford – on CCCC Rocky Boys Tribe.” Mervin Whitford is the brother of Ted Whitford. Huston and K & N Consulting retained the remaining $42,200.
Embezzlement from the Rocky Boy Health Clinic
Sunchild had also entered a plea of guilty to the embezzlement of $25,000 from the Rocky Boy Health Clinic.
In 2012, Bruce Sunchild, then Chairman of the Chippewa Cree Business Committee and on the Board of Directors of the Rocky Boy Health Board Clinic, sought to get in-patient substance abuse treatment for his son and his son’s girlfriend. The White Sky Hope Center, located on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation and serving the Chippewa Cree Tribe, receives approximately $90,000 a year from the IHS to pay for inpatient treatment for tribal members requiring those services. White Sky does not have inpatient treatment facilities, but the federal funding allows White Sky to refer 6 to 8 tribal members a year for inpatient treatment at facilities outside of the reservation. These 6 to 8 tribal members are chosen based on their conditions and/or if their situation constitutes a need for emergency in-patient rehabilitative care. These 6 to 8 tribal members must be referred by White Sky for the services to be covered by federal funding.
After the pair was turned down by White Sky, Chairman Sunchild directed them to meet with Dr. James Eastlick, Jr. Eastlick had told Chairman Sunchild that the only money available for treatment was through a White Sky referral, but the Chairman was adamant that the pair get treatment off the reservation and as soon as possible. Eastlick arranged for the pair to get an evaluation in Havre which was used to get a referral to the Rimrock Foundation in Billings. Chairman Sunchild went to Huston and asked that he “front” the money for treatment at Rimrock for his son and his son’s girlfriend with the promise that Huston would be repaid. Huston agreed and the two went to Rimrock as private patients (meaning they paid the full rate instead of a discounted rate that would have been expended had they went through White Sky). The total bill was $25,000.
In October of 2012, Chairman Sunchild directed Fawn Tadios, then the Executive Director of the RBHB Clinic, to issue two checks: Check # 107918 payable to Sunchild’s son’s girlfriend and Check # 107919 was payable to Sunchild’s son. In an October 11, 2012, email, Tadios told John Johnson in the RBHBC Finance office to issue the checks “to [Sunchild’s son] and [Sunchild’s son’s girlfriend]” and further advised that “I’ll [Tadios] take them over to Leon’s and he’ll [Huston] call them and have them sign them over to the pawn shop.” The pawn shop referred to in the email is Leon’s Buy and Sell which is owned and operated by Shad Huston. The repayment funds came from Contract Health Service (CHS). Johnson advised investigators that CHS does not pay for inpatient treatment. Only the White Sky Hope Center covers the cost for inpatient treatment.
Sunchild also plead guilty to tax evasion for his failure to report and pay tax on $144,477 of unreported income in and between 2009 and 2012.
In addition to the federal prison sentence, Sunchild was sentenced to pay $370,088 in restitution. Of that amount, restitution was ordered to the Internal Revenue Service in the amount of $45,088, and to Chippewa Cree Tribe in the amount of $325,000 — with $300,000 of that amount obligated jointly and severally with other defendants sentenced in connection with the December 201l transaction.
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.