Crow group wants to ban felons from tribal employment

2013-07-13T00:15:00Z 2013-07-14T06:04:07Z Crow group wants to ban felons from tribal employmentBy SUSAN OLP solp@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Crow tribal members convicted of or indicted for white-collar crimes against the Crow Tribe shouldn't be able to work for the tribe.

That’s what Crows Against Corruption and Government Waste believe, and the group has launched an initiative drive to get a majority of the Crow Tribe to adopt legislation mandating that.

The seven-member group was formed in January, less than a month after seven people were indicted after an investigation into fraud at the Crow Tribe Historic Preservation Office. In May, four of the seven defendants pleaded guilty in federal court to various charges.

They include Larkin Troy Chandler, Mark James Denny, Martin Lloyd Old Horn and Fred Deputee. Dale Old Horn, Allen Joseph Old Horn and Shawn Talking Eagle Danforth are awaiting trial in August.

Federal prosecutors say the case involved $500,000 in double billings and billings for hours not worked by tribal monitors on archaeological projects.

The initiative action was spurred by the tribe's having rehired in new capacities three of the people involved in the case, said Burton Pretty on Top, assistant coordinator of the group, and Cedric Black Eagle, a member.

Denny and Chandler are employed in the tribe's Cultural Affairs office. Dale Old Horn is paid as part of a group making recommendations on how to preserve the Crow culture and way of life.

“We don’t agree with rewarding tribal members who committed crimes against the tribe with high-paying jobs using tribal assets,” Black Eagle said.

He also disagrees with those assets being used to help convicted felons pay back the tribe. Denny has been ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $73,046 and Chandler, $44,546. Both men received probationary terms.

Black Eagle, the tribe’s previous chairman, was defeated for re-election by Darrin Old Coyote in the November general election. He acknowledged that his administration also employed tribal members who had been convicted of white-collar crimes, including former chairman Richard Real Bird and Gail Three Irons.

The difference, Black Eagle says, is that those men already had paid for the crimes they committed by the time they were rehired by the tribe.

“I believe those people should be excluded,” he said. “Those people have already served their time and paid restitution and are trying to put their life in order.”

As the group holds meetings on the initiative in the tribal districts, whether or not to include a statute of limitations on the crimes will likely be a point of discussion, Black Eagle said.

Regarding the indictments related to the Crow Tribe Historic Preservation Office, he pointed out that Old Coyote was Crow vice secretary and had oversight over the THPO office at the time the fraud came to light.

“The crimes occurred under his supervision, and then he brought back the same people,” Black Eagle said.

Old Coyote said he could not comment specifically about the initiative because he hasn't seen a copy of it.

"I have to see it in black and white before I can make a comment," he said.

But he welcomed the coalition's participation in the tribe's democratic process.

"If they want to move any issue forward we welcome that because it is a democracy and they are Crow and part of the general council," he said. "It's their constitutional right to bring it forward."

Old Coyote even offered to introduce the proposed bill in the Crow Legislature.

"It would be easier than trying to get the amount of names they need," he said. 

To move forward with the initiative, the coalition must collect signatures from 25 percent of the members of the Crow Tribal General Council, which is made up of the tribe’s eligible voters age 18 and older.

According to the Crow secretary’s office, that number totaled 8,277 voters for a special election held in February. To secure a secret-ballot vote on the initiative would require 2,069 signatures.

Pretty On Top said the coalition considered going through the Crow Legislature to get such a bill passed. But the Black Eagle administration, for which Pretty On Top worked, frequently butted heads with legislators.

“I know if we presented it to the Legislature, it wouldn’t go anywhere,” he said. “So we’re doing what we’re doing. We’re going to the people.”

Black Eagle said the group plans to start meeting soon with people in the tribal districts, and hopes to wrap up work by the end of August. The initiative itself is still in its draft stage, but the coalition hopes to finalize it soon.

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