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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of South Dakota

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, May 27, 2021

Contracting Company Owner Pleads Guilty to Federal Offense and Another Business Partner Charged for Roles in Bribery Scheme

Defendants Prosecuted as Part of The Guardians Project, a Federal Law Enforcement Initiative to Combat Corruption, Fraud, and Abuse in South Dakota

Acting United States Attorney Dennis R. Holmes announced that a former contracting company owner pleaded guilty for his role in a bribery scheme.  Kevin Michael Trio, age 58, of Maple Plain, Minnesota, entered his plea of guilty to Making a Materially False Statement to two federal agents with the Department of Justice.  U.S. District Judge Charles B. Kornmann presided over the hearing, and his sentencing hearing will be held on August 2, 2021, in the federal courthouse in Aberdeen, South Dakota.

In a separate hearing, another former owner made his appearance in federal court for his role in the same bribery scheme.  Michael Nathan Cebulla, age 44, of Buffalo, Minnesota, made his initial appearance on charges of Conspiracy to Commit Bribery Concerning Programs Receiving Federal Funds and of Making a Materially False Statement.  He made his appearance on May 20, 2021, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark A. Moreno and entered a plea of not guilty.  The charges are merely accusations, and Cebulla is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.  He was released pending trial.

Each offense carries the following maximum penalties:  five years of imprisonment; a $250,000 fine; or both fine and imprisonment; 3 years of supervised release following release from custody; $100 special assessment; restitution.

According to court documents, the Dakota Nations Development Corporation (“DNDC”) was an agency of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Sioux Tribe, a tribal government that received federal assistance in excess of $10,000 during the one-year period between October 1, 2017, and September 30, 2018.  At that time, Daniel Thomas White served as the Director of the DNDC.  White’s duties included, among other things, overseeing housing and construction projects of the DNDC.

DNDC established an entity called the SWO Elderly Village Limited Partnership.  The purpose of the entity was to obtain tax credit financing to build an elderly village complex on tribal land.  On April 22, 2016, SWO’s tribal council passed a resolution authorizing DNDC to pursue low-income housing tax credits for the elderly village complex.  The tribe also committed nearly $3,000,000 to the project.

Cebulla, Trio, and John German formed a business on December 15, 2016, called Tatanka Contracting.  On October 27, 2017, DNDC contracted with Tatanka Contracting to do the earthwork associated with the elderly village project.  The contract was for a guaranteed price of $1,070,740, although a change order increased the total of the contract to $1,129,679.

To secure the dirt work contract, German bribed White and White accepted the bribe.  Specifically, in November 2017, German corruptly gave, offered, and agreed to give money to Daniel Thomas White, intending to influence and reward White, who was an agent of the DNDC, in connection with a transaction and series of transactions of the DNDC involving $5,000 or more.

White and German pleaded guilty to their roles in the bribery scheme last year.  White will be sentenced by Judge Kornmann on September 27, 2021, and German was sentenced in October 2020 to 84 months in federal custody.

The investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy R. Jehangiri prosecuted the case.      

The case was brought pursuant to The Guardians Project, a federal law enforcement initiative to coordinate efforts between participating agencies, to promote citizen disclosure of public corruption, fraud, and embezzlement involving federal program funds, contracts, and grants, and to hold accountable those who are responsible for adversely affecting those living in South Dakota’s Indian country communities.  The Guardians Project is another step of federal law enforcement’s on-going efforts to increase engagement, coordination, and positive action on behalf of tribal communities.  Led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the participating agencies include:  Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Offices of Inspector General for the Departments of Interior, Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration, Agriculture, Transportation, Education, Justice, and Housing and Urban Development; Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division; U.S. Postal Inspector Service; U.S. Postal Service, Office of Inspector General.

For additional information about The Guardians Project, please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office at (605) 330-4400.  To report a suspected crime, please contact law enforcement at the federal agency’s locally listed telephone number.

Topic(s): 
Financial Fraud
Indian Country Law and Justice
Component(s): 
Updated May 27, 2021