Three ex-employees of Blackfeet Tribe’s Head Start Program sentenced in theft, fraud
GREAT FALLS—Three former employees who had management positions with the Blackfeet Tribe’s Head Start Program were sentenced on April 11 to months in prison for their roles in an overtime pay scheme that defrauded the children’s assistance program of an estimated $174,000, U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said.
U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris presided at the sentencings for Theresa Marie Calf Boss Ribs, 51, of Browning, Patrick H. Calf Boss Ribs, Jr., 44, of Heart Butte, and Denise L. Sharp, 60, of Browning.
The three defendants each pleaded guilty earlier to theft from an Indian tribal government receiving federal funding and to wire fraud.
Morris sentenced Theresa Marie Calf Boss Ribs, who was the payroll manager, to 8 months in prison, two years of supervised release and ordered $139,096 in restitution.
Morris sentenced Patrick H. Calf Boss Ribs, Jr., who was the nutrition manager/payroll clerk, to 9 months in prison, two years of supervised release and ordered $139,096 in restitution and a $25,122 forfeiture.
Morris sentenced Sharp, who was the personnel manager, to nine months in prison, two years of supervised release and ordered $139,096 in restitution and a $29,033 forfeiture.
U.S. Attorney Alme said, “I hope that the sentencings of three former managers of the Blackfeet Head Start program will deter others from stealing from federally funds intended to help tribal members. 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 prosecute these cases to ensure that federal funds are used for the needs of those intended.”
The Blackfeet Tribe operates the Head Start Program with funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Head Start provides early childhood education and other services for low-income children and their families.
During a 15-month period, starting in April 2013, the defendants and others falsely claimed 5,850 hours of overtime and received more than $174,000 in overtime pay from the Head Start program. 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 HHS $250,620.29 for disallowed costs and other expenses.
After an on-site review of the program by government authorities from Washington, D.C., the defendants along with others met in a conference room. Despite not actually working the hours, everyone present in the room agreed to continue claiming overtime.
Theresa Calf Boss Ribs and Patrick H. Calf Boss Ribs, Jr. were in charge of monitoring the time cards. At the end of the pay period, individuals in the group would stop by to sign their time cards for the pay period. The time cards were already completed by the defendants and included false overtime hours.
Other Head Start workers told investigators they never saw Blackfeet Head Start personnel working late nights or on weekends. The program’s board chairman was unaware of the overtime claims and was unaware of any needs that would have justified the overtime claims by the defendants. Because of insufficient funds, he also had to identify necessary budget cuts.
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.