Five Tribal Executives Plead Guilty in Federal Court to Embezzlement Scheme
Defendants Prosecuted as Part of The Guardians Project
United States Attorney Randolph J. Seiler announced today that five current and former executives of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribe’s Big Coulee District in South Dakota pled guilty in federal court on May 5, 15, and 18, 2017. The guilty pleas were to charges that include Conspiracy to Commit Embezzlement from an Indian Tribal Organization and Embezzlement from an Indian Tribal Organization.
The federal case against these tribal executives was part of an initiative branded as The Guardians Project – a multi-agency law enforcement operation designed to investigate, uncover, disrupt, and prosecute public corruption, theft, and federal program fraud taking place on tribal lands in South Dakota.
The four defendants whom pled guilty on May 15 and 18 are as follows:
Carrie Godfrey, 49, of Sisseton, was Treasurer of the District Executive Board from January 2007 to January 2011, and Secretary of the Board from January 2011 through January 2015.
Gerald German, Jr., 44, of Peever, was Chairman of the District Executive Board from January 2007 through January 2015.
Gerald Heminger, Jr., 56, of Sisseton, was Vice Chairman of the District Executive Board from January 2007 to January 2011.
Colette White, 55, of Peever, has been Treasurer of the District Executive Board since January 2011.
These four defendants appeared before U.S. District Judge Charles B. Kornmann in Aberdeen, and each pled guilty to a felony charged in the Indictment. According to plea documents relating to Godfrey, German, Heminger, and White, from approximately June 2010 through March 2013, the four defendants conspired to embezzle, steal, and knowingly convert to their own use funds from the Big Coulee District of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe (“Tribe”), an Indian Tribal organization. These defendants joined the agreement knowing its illegal purpose, and they conspired with each other and others. The Big Coulee District (“District”) is a political subdivision of the Tribe. These defendants are current or former executive board members of the District, and, during the conspiracy, they stole a total of $81,542.50 from the District.
The fifth defendant, Calvin Max, Sr., 48, of Sisseton, has been Vice Chairman of the District Executive Board since January 2011. Max pleaded guilty on May 5, 2017, to a felony count alleged in a separate indictment.
While Max’s plea agreement encompasses his conduct in the Big Coulee conspiracy, he also admitted to his role in stealing government property. Specifically, from approximately Feburary 2013 and through July 2013, Max and Gregory Meide, a separately convicted defendant, knowingly embezzled, stole, purloined, and converted to their own use money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA is an agency of the United States, and Max and co-defendant stole over $7,000 from FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant program, by overbilling the program and then using the funds for their own purposes.
As to Godfrey, German, Heminger, and White, the maximum term of imprisonment is up to 5 years in custody for Conspiracy to Commit Embezzlement from an Indian Tribal Organization and Embezzlement from an Indian Tribal Organization. As to Max, the maximum term of imprisonment is up to 10 years in custody for Theft of Government Property. Each of the five defendants also faces the maximum penalties of a $250,000 fine, followed by 3 years of supervised release, and $100 to the Federal Crime Victims Fund. Restitution may also be ordered.
The investigation is being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the financial crime investigator at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann M. Hoffman is prosecuting the case.
Ann German, 57, of Peever, who is currently the Big Coulee District Coordinator, is scheduled for a hearing before the Court on May 30.
The Guardians Project
The mission of The Guardians Project is to coordinate law enforcement efforts between these agencies to ensure the collaboration of forces, assets, and responsibilities, 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.
Since its inception in December 2015, The Guardians Project’s participants have dedicated efforts toward myriad investigations across the state, and those efforts have resulted in the opening of 29 investigations, the filing of 8 indictments naming 21 defendants, and the convictions of 14 defendants to date. Six of the indicted defendants are currently pending trial, and one defendant is scheduled to plead guilty. The Guardians Project is designed to enhance federal law enforcement efforts by uniting the expertise and resources of the participating thirteen federal investigative agencies. The agencies include:
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Department of Interior, Office of Inspector General
Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General
Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General
Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division
Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General
Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General
Department of Education, Office of Inspector General
U.S. Postal Inspector Service
U.S. Postal Service, Office of Inspector General
Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General
Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General
United States Attorney’s Office, District of South Dakota
For additional information about The Guardians Project, please contact the United States Attorney’s Office at (605)330-4400. To report a suspected crime, please contact law enforcement at the agency’s locally listed telephone number.