Former Crow Tribal Chairman Cedric Black Eagle told a federal jury on Wednesday that the ex-director of the tribe’s historic preservation office did not seek his approval before changing the policy on billing companies that used its services.
Dale Drew Old Horn, the former director, along with his son, Allen Joseph Old Horn, a former supervisor and monitor in the office; and his son-in-law, Shawn Talking Eagle Danforth, a former employee and monitor, are on trial in U.S. District Court in Billings on allegations that they defrauded the tribe of more than $500,000 in a billing scheme.
The three defendants are charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, theft and other charges. If convicted, the defendants face a maximum of 20 years in prison and fines up to $250,000.
Four other co-defendants have pleaded guilty in plea deals with the prosecutor.
The defendants are accused of diverting the money in a double-payment scheme by having companies pay monitors directly for oversight services rather than pay the tribe. Most of the monitors in the office also were tribal employees who were paid a salary. The monitors oversee projects by companies to ensure that cultural and historical resources are protected.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Rostad said the money was diverted by Dale Old Horn for his family’s personal use in a conspiracy that ran from 2009 to 2011.
Black Eagle, who was chairman from 2009 until 2012, said the historic preservation office was created in 2005 and is funded with a National Park Service grant and money from the tribe’s general fund.
In 2011, Black Eagle said, he became aware from the tribe’s finance office that company payments for monitor services were no longer being paid to the tribe but that monitors were still getting their tribal salaries. He asked for an internal inquiry by the legal department and referred the matter to federal investigators.
Under questioning by Dale Old Horn’s attorney, Matt Wald, Black Eagle said he sent a memo to Dale Old Horn telling him why he thought the new billing policy violated personnel policy.
Dale Old Horn and then-tribal Vice Secretary Darrin Old Coyote, who oversaw the preservation office, responded with a letter saying why they disagreed. Black Eagle said he did not reply to that letter. Old Coyote, the current tribal chairman, beat Black Eagle in an election in November 2012 and also is Dale Old Horn’s nephew.
Other government witnesses on Wednesday included representatives from several companies that worked with the historic preservation office and hired monitors for their projects.
Testimony from Vicki Westby, a right-of-way agent for ConocoPhillips in Billings, contradicted statements that Dale Old Horn made to federal investigators in a recorded interview before indictment.
Westby said that when she called Dale Old Horn seeking monitors for a pipeline maintenance project in 2010, he assigned his daughter, Danelle Lynn Old Horn, to the project and told Westby to pay her directly because she was not a tribal employee. Danelle Old Horn was among those indicted; she died in December.
When Dale Old Horn told her to pay monitors directly, Westby said, she sent him an email because she wanted the billing change in writing. The billing change was more difficult for the company, she said, because it had to pay individuals weekly rather than sending a check to the tribe.
ConocoPhillips did not complain to the tribe or to Dale Old Horn about the billing process, Westby said.
Dale Old Horn told investigators that Westby had complained about the tribe’s billing process and that the company preferred to pay individual monitors directly, saying that was a normal practice.
The trial continues Thursday with Senior U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon presiding.