Laurel man denies charges in Chippewa Cree corruption investigation

2014-08-06T14:53:00Z 2014-09-26T14:10:06Z Laurel man denies charges in Chippewa Cree corruption investigationBy CLAIR JOHNSON cjohnson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A Laurel man already facing federal fraud charges recently denied new charges linked to a large corruption investigation involving the Chippewa Cree Tribe on the Rocky Boy’s Reservation.

Mark Craig Leischner pleaded not guilty on July 24 during an arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong in Great Falls to five counts in an indictment.

Leischner, along with co-defendants John Chance Houle, a Chippewa Cree Business Committee member and president of the Chippewa Cree Rodeo Association, and Wade Christopher Colliflower, vice president of the rodeo association, are accused of conspiring to embezzle money deposited in the association’s account by hiding payments to other people and then getting kick-backs for their personal benefit.

The charges are the latest in an ongoing federal investigation into corruption on Montana’s Indian reservations. The probe already had led to a round of convictions at Rocky Boy earlier this year.

Leischner is facing charges of conspiracy to embezzle tribal funds, theft from an Indian tribal organization, theft, obstruction of justice by manufacturing false evidence and obstruction of justice by impeding a federal grand jury.

If convicted of obstruction by manufacturing false evidence, Leischner faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The case is being heard by U.S. District Judge Brian Morris of Great Falls.

Prosecutor Carl Rostad said in court records that the conspiracy ran from about June 2009 until July 2010 and involved the defendants, along with Leischner’s wife, Tammy Kay Leischner; and his brother-in-law and wife’s brother, James Howard Eastlick Jr. who were not indicted.

As part of the conspiracy, Houle and Colliflower wrote checks on the rodeo association’s bank account to Mark Leischner, who spent some of the money on legitimate purposes but “kick-backed” a significant portion to Eastlick Jr., who then shared the proceeds with Houle, the indictment said. Eastlick Jr. was a former psychologist at the reservation’s health clinic.

Eastlick previously pleaded guilty to bribing former state Rep. Tony Belcourt, who earlier this year admitted to theft, bribery and tax-evasion charges. Belcourt was head of the Chippewa Cree Construction Corp., which oversaw contracts for Rocky Boy’s reservation water pipeline project and awarded Eastlick’s family contracts.

Leischner also is accused of fabricating documents to make the rodeo account transfers appear legitimate after he learned of the federal investigation.

In addition, Leischner is suspected of producing false documents in response to a federal grand jury subpoena knowing that the panel was investigating the theft of federal money through the rodeo association account and the Chippewa Cree Construction Corp.

Mark Leischner was indicted earlier on corruption charges involving the Chippewa Cree Construction Corp., but those charges were dismissed. However, Tammy Leischner, also was indicted in the corruption case and pleaded guilty to an aiding and abetting charge. She is awaiting sentencing.

Both Leischners also are facing bankruptcy fraud charges. And a third indictment charges the couple, along with their son, Brenden Leischner, of conspiracy to defraud the government of federal student aid money.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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