2 Spirit Lake tribal councilmen appear on embezzlement charges
Two council members of the Spirit Lake Tribe appeared in federal court in Grand Forks today on charges of embezzlement and theft of funds from the tribe's fuel assistance program, bringing to five the number of tribal members charged in the alleg...
Two council members of the Spirit Lake Tribe appeared in federal court in Grand Forks today on charges of embezzlement and theft of funds from the tribe's fuel assistance program, bringing to five the number of tribal members charged in the alleged fraud.
U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon said today that Justin Yankton, 37, and secretary/treasurer on the tribal council, and Carl Walking Eagle, 69 and the council's representative from the Crow Hill district of the Fort Totten-based tribe, appeared today in court.
Earlier this week, three other tribal members and employees appeared on similar charges in Grand Forks, also before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alice Senechal.
Patricia Robertson, also known as Patti Cavanaugh, 52, appeared Tuesday and pleaded not guilty. Robertson is coordinator of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program on the reservation at Devils Lake that distributes federal block grant funds to qualified participants.
Also Tuesday, Barbara Walking Eagle, 64, a librarian at the community college at Fort Totten, appeared on the charges in the same indictment that charges her husband, Carl.
On Wednesday, Brooke Black, 27, and an employee of the tribe's food distribution program, appeared on the same indictment as Yankton.
Tribal members told the Herald that Black and Yankton are a couple.
The indictment alleges that since October 2008, the two have "knowingly and willfully misapplied funds belonging to" the fuel assistance program, and that Black made false statements and gave false information to the program to receive the fuel assistance. The program requires that recipients have an income lower than a proscribed level.
Shawn Autrey, a public defender in federal court in Grand Forks, said he represented Black at her initial hearing this week. But because she did not qualify for a public defender after filling out the financial information, she must retain her own counsel at future hearings.
In a separate indictment, the Walking Eagles face similar charges, including Barbara Walking Eagle being charged with making false statement and giving false information to the program to get the fuel aid funds.
In her indictment, Robertson was charged with "embezzlement and theft from an Indian tribal organization." As coordinator of the program, Robertson, since October 2007, "knowingly and willfully misapplied funds belonging to" the fuel assistance program, Purdon said in a news release.
Robertson is from St. Michael, N.D.,; the other four are from Fort Totten.
Purdon said all five were indicted March 31 by a grand jury in what are three separate cases in the single investigation that involved the FBI. Assistant U.S. Attorney Janice Morley is prosecuting the five.
The maximum sentence on each charge is five years in prison. All five pleaded not guilty at their first appearances this week and were released on their own recognizance. They are scheduled to be arraigned April 18.
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EDITOR'S NOTE: The original headline incorrectly stated that more than two Spirit Lake tribal members appeared in court on embezzlement charges. Five tribal members face charges; two are tribal council members.