Laurel Couple Sentenced to Federal Prison for Role in Rocky Boy's Corruption Probe
GREAT FALLS – A husband and wife linked to corruption on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation were both given two-year federal prison sentences today in Great Falls. Mark Craig Leischner,48, and Tammy Kay Leischner,43, of Laurel were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Brian Morris following their guilty pleas to multiple felonies. Mark Leischner, who plead guilty to embezzlement of over $200,000 in funds from the Chippewa Cree Tribe Rodeo Association, federal student financial aid fraud, and obstruction of justice, was sentenced to 24 months in prison. Tammy Leischner, who plead guilty to aiding the embezzlement of $311,000 in federal funds, bankruptcy fraud, federal student financial aid fraud, and blackmail, was also sentenced to 24 months in prison. Following their incarceration, both will be on federal supervised release for three years. Mark Leischner was ordered to pay $281,313 in restitution, and Tammy Leischner was ordered to pay $375,092 in restitution.
Theft of Federal Funds
Tammy Leischner plead guilty to assisting and participating in the embezzlement of hundreds of thousands of dollars in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds provided by the Bureau of Reclamation for the Rocky Boy’s water project.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Tony Belcourt, then the Chief Executive Officer of the Chippewa Cree Construction Corporation, in anticipation of receiving $20 million in ARRA funds in September 2009, solicited bids for the supply and delivery of the pipe needed for the Tiber Reservoir water project. At some point prior to a telephone meeting on January 27, 2010, RPK Transport of Joliet, Montana, was selected as the shipper for the pipe. RPK did in fact provide all of the shipping for the pipe, invoiced the cost, and was paid $348,950, by Tammy Leischner and James Howard Eastlick, Sr. doing business as T. Leischner Consulting.
Although a contract for the supply and delivery (shipping) of pipe was in place with Northwest Pipe, the pipe manufacturer, and a shipper—RPK Transport—had been selected to haul the pipe from Colorado to Montana, Belcourt awarded a separate shipping contract to T. Leischner Consulting on January 28, 2010, for $495,000.
In February 2010, Belcourt approved an advance payment of $165,000 (one-third of the contract price) in ARRA funds to the newly created business entity, T. Leischner Consulting. On March 1, 2010, James Howard Eastlick wire transferred $101,000 of the $165,000 deposit, to the bank account of MT Waterworks, a retail sales pipe supply company, at Yellowstone Bank in Billings. Like the T. Leischner account, the MT Waterworks account was newly created; created only two weeks earlier, on February 19, 2010, by Tony Belcourt and two business partners. The $101,000 wired from T. Leischner Consulting purchased a controlling financial interest in the enterprise for Belcourt, and the company relied on a “minority owned” status for preferential treatment in federal construction projects based on Belcourt’s tribal enrollment with the Chippewa Cree Tribe.
An invoice for services was created by T. Leischner Consulting and dated March 25, 2010, in the full amount of $495,000—even though it had already received a full one-third of the contract amount in February. Leischner presented this invoice to Northwest Pipe through the project’s procurement agent. Between March 26 and April 23, 2010, in a series of financial transactions, $495,000 in ARRA funds were provided to Leischner.
Shortly after the $495,000 was deposited on April 26 into Leischner’s account, James Eastlick Sr. wired $200,000 to the Chippewa Cree Rodeo Association account in Havre. One month later two checks were issued from the Rodeo account to Mark Leischner which totaled $133,000. That money was deposited into the Leischner’s personal account at Stockman Bank. Ten days after that deposit, on July 2, Tammy Leischner bought a $62,000 cashier’s check from Stockman Bank made payable to Hill County Title. That cashier’s check was used by Hailey Belcourt on July 7 to buy a residence in Box Elder, which the Belcourt’s used as a rental property.
Embezzlement from the Rodeo Account and Obstruction of a Grand Jury investigation
Mark Leischner plead guilty to assisting John Chance Houle, a tribal official and the President of the Chippewa Cree Rodeo Association (CCRA) embezzle funds from the rodeo association accounts by serving as a nominee vendor and then kicking money back to Houle and his brother-in-law, James Eastlick, Jr. and obstructing a Grand Jury investigation.
Beginning in 2009, Houle and Eastlick devised a scheme whereby they could embezzle funds from the rodeo association account using nominee vendors willing to kick-back a portion of the proceeds to Houle and Eastlick. In 2009, Mark Leischner received $135,000 in checks from Houle, and kicked-back to Eastlick approximately $53,000. Of the $135,000, according to the forensic investigation of Leischner’s bank accounts by case agents, only $33,750 was actually spent on saddles to be used for rodeo prizes. In June 2010, Houle wrote two rodeo association checks to Mark Leischner totaling $133,000. Of the $133,000, the investigation determined that approximately $16,000 was spent on rodeo prizes (i.e., saddles and belt buckles) and $62,000 was kicked-back to Belcourt for the purchase of a residence in Box Elder.
On March 19, 2013, a Grand Jury subpoena was issued ordering Mark Leischner to appear before the Grand Jury on April 3, 2013, and to produce certain documents relating to his contracts with the CCRA in 2009 and 2010. Between January and June of 2013, Houle, Eastlick, and the Leischners met between three and five times to discuss the manufacture of, and create, “back-up” documents that would satisfy investigators, and the Grand Jury, that the transactions were legitimate rodeo contract payments. On July 25, 2013, documents were provided by Leischner to the Grand Jury. Most were determined to be fabricated documents manufactured between January and June of 2013.
Bankruptcy Fraud and Federal Student Financial Aid Fraud
Brenden Leischner, son of Mark and Tammy Leischner, applied for admission and was accepted to the University of Great Falls (UGF) in the Fall of 2009 as a Criminal Justice major. As part of that process, the Leischners completed the first of several Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms to qualify Brenden for federal student aid. Both Brenden and his parents provided information, on-line, in the completion and submission of the FAFSA. The Leischners received in excess of $1.1 million dollars into their accounts during the period of Brenden Leischner’s enrollment at UGF that was not declared on any application for federal student assistance. Mark and Tammy Leischner were sentenced for their guilty pleas to defrauding the U.S. Department of Education. Brenden Leischner was sentenced in December of 2014 to six months in custody and 5 years of probation for his role in the fraud.
On October 2, 2012, the Leischners filed for bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Case No. 12-61597-RBK. On October 19 they filed their schedules in support of the petition. The Leischners did not reveal then, or at any time subsequent, the $165,000 from CCCC, the $495,000 from Northwest Pipe, or the $133,000 from the Rodeo Association. They also did not disclose the existence of the Stockman Bank account, which had been opened in May of 2010, or the Altana FCU account of T Consulting, through which the pipe-shipping contract payments, totaling $660,000, passed.
Tammy Leischner was sentenced on her plea of guilty to bankruptcy fraud.
On October 17, 2014, a letter from Tammy Leischner was delivered to Jim Eastlick Jr.s home addressed to his wife, which read, in part that “To the issue of the criminal charges, I have a handwriting expert highly accredited in state and federal courts, ........, who is prepared to write a report and testify to the fact the signatures on the contracts, are not James Eastlick Jrs' and are in fact [his wife’s]… As a direct result of your actions I am requesting damages of $ 595,000.00 dollars. If payment is received by November 7, 2014 I will wave my right to pursue a civil action, the criminal charges, and informing the federal judge. …If I am not successful trying to mitigate this by November 7, 2014 I will promptly file criminal charges with Joe Waller, inform Honorable Brian Morris, ….” Subsequent investigation verified that Tammy Leischner had sent the threatening letter.
Tammy Leischner plead guilty to a charge of blackmail and was sentenced today for that offense.
Because there is no parole in the federal system, the “truth in sentencing” guidelines mandate that the Leischners will likely serve all of the time imposed by the court. In the federal system, defendants do have the opportunity to earn a limited reduction in time served for “good behavior,” a reduction for good conduct while incarcerated will not exceed 15% of the overall sentence.