Montana U.S. Attorney's Office Receives National Award for Guardians Project
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson recognized Montana’s U.S. Attorney, Mike Cotter, with the agency’s prestigious Inspector General's Award for Excellence for his efforts and the efforts of his office in combating corruption in federal grants and contracts with the Guardians Project. The Guardians Project involves a multi-agency strike force led by the agents of the Offices of Inspector General for Interior and Health and Human Services, the FBI and the IRS. Other law enforcement agencies that have contributed to the success of the Guardians Project include agents from the Offices for Inspector General from Education, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Homeland Security, Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and investigators from various tribal governments. U.S. Attorney Cotter received the award at the Cohen Federal Building in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, June 9.
In accepting the award, U. S. Attorney Cotter was quick to acknowledge and applaud the hard work and talent of those attached to the Guardians Project. “All the honor belongs to the investigators and prosecutors who have trudged through the muck and mire of corrupt officials, greedy contractors, and opportunistic government employees,” he said. “Agents are on the road for weeks and away from their homes and families to root out corruption in Montana and to make the homes and families of our tribal communities better. They make the sacrifice and it is they that should receive the awards, the acknowledgement, and the gratitude for a job truly well done.”
"Our office is proud to present this award to the U.S. Attorney for this unique and successful partnership,” said Gerald Roy, Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services, Kansas City Region. “The dedicated public servants of the Guardians Project have worked tirelessly to keep our federal programs solvent and bring those who steal from them to justice. I commend their diligent work.”
Agents working for the Inspectors General specialize in the investigation of fraud and corruption, and other forms of abuse of taxpayer monies, and possess specialized knowledge of federal programs. U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter supported the program, which was designed and launched by his Economic Crimes Unit attorneys in 2011, “as a way to do more than hold a particular defendant accountable, but also as a way to find errors in oversight and management of federal tax dollars that could lead to better government on the front end of the grants and contracts process.”
Since the Guardians Project began obtaining indictments from the federal grand jury in late 2012, thirty eight indictments and two informations have been filed charging 81 defendants and resulting in over 100 felony convictions for crimes including conspiracy, bribery, fraud, embezzlement, extortion, obstruction of justice, money laundering, blackmail, and tax evasion. The Guardians Project created a partnership that merged the expertise and oversight responsibilities of the various Inspectors General with the resources and traditional public corruption investigation responsibility of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service.
Notable Guardians prosecutions are the convictions of six defendants associated with the Po’Ka Program for disadvantaged youth on the Blackfeet reservation, the prosecution and conviction of Tony Belcourt, Chief Executive Officer of the Chippewa Cree Construction Corporation, and former tribal Chairmen John Chance Houle and Bruce Sunchild of the Rocky Boy’s reservation. Eight members of the Dale Old Horn family were convicted in 2012 and 2013 for their role in a scheme to defraud the Crow Tribe using positions with the Crow Tribe Historic Preservation Office. The former Chief Executive Officer of the Rocky Boy Health Clinic, Fawn Tadios, and former Clinic Finance Manager Theodora Morsette were convicted by juries in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Another Health Clinic CEO, Tim Rosette, has been indicted on an assortment of bribery and theft charges, and the most recent acting CEO, Darrin Miller, has been indicted for tax evasion. Agents of the Guardians Project uncovered a $300,000 embezzlement in the Blackfeet Tribe’s TANF Program, and secured welfare fraud convictions of two employees of the Fort Belknap Tribe’s public assistance office. Agents also secured the conviction at a jury trial earlier this year of John Lyon, the State Director of the Bureau of Land Management for the Eastern States Region for paying his Deputy Director for eight months—about $112,000—even though that deputy had left his BLM job in July 2012 and began working for the Chippewa Cree Tribe in Montana. That former Deputy Director, Larry Denny, was also convicted for taking a federal paycheck through March of 2013 when the scheme was discovered.