Blackfeet consultant convicted for kickbacks

2014-05-23T10:13:00Z 2014-05-27T15:08:28Z Blackfeet consultant convicted for kickbacksThe Associated Press The Associated Press
May 23, 2014 10:13 am  • 

GREAT FALLS — A federal jury convicted a consultant for the Blackfeet Indian tribe of more than two dozen charges after prosecutors said he provided kickbacks to tribal leaders in a scheme to defraud a $9.3 million mental health program.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris set a Sept. 4 sentencing for Gary Conti.

Prosecutors said the retired Oklahoma State University professor kicked back more than $230,000 from a federally funded project for troubled youth to accounts controlled by the program's tribal leaders.

Following a four-day trial ending late Thursday, jurors found Conti guilty on 21 counts of wire fraud and one count each of false claims, theft of federal property, theft from a tribe, money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the government.

Each wire fraud conviction carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and $250,000 fine. Penalties for the other charges range from a maximum of five to 10 years in prison.

Jurors found Conti not guilty of one fraud charge.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Rostad said he expects Conti to appeal. Neither Conti nor his attorney could be reached immediately for comment.

Conti was found guilty of bankruptcy fraud in a prior trial in which jurors could not decide on the other charges against him.

The tribe's Po'Ka project received $9.3 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over six years starting in 2005. It was intended to become a reservation-wide children's mental health system supported by the Blackfeet tribe without federal assistance.

The money Conti returned was meant to be a donation to the Blackfeet community, Conti previously told FBI agents.

Conti's attorney, Joshua S. Van de Wetering, has said tribal leaders Francis Onstad and Delyle "Shanny" Augare perpetuated the fraud.

Onstad, Augare and three other people who worked on the program to provide services for troubled youth have pleaded guilty to charges related to defrauding the program. They were accused of embezzling money from the Po'Ka project and doctoring invoices to embellish the contributions the tribe was supposed to make to keep the federal grant money coming.

Onstad, Augare and Dorothy May Still Smoking, an evaluator for the project, are scheduled to be sentenced June 5. Katheryn Sherman, the project's coordinator, is to be sentenced the following day.

Administrative assistant Charlotte New Breast was given a probationary sentence in February and ordered to pay $50,000 in restitution.

Conti was the only defendant who sought a jury trial.

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

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