Three of seven defendants caught in a $500,000 fraud investigation at the Crow Tribe Historic Preservation Office changed their pleas to guilty Tuesday in separate hearings before a federal judge in Billings.
Larkin Troy Chandler, 46, and Mark James Denny, 33, both former CTHPO employees, pleaded guilty to counts of theft from an organization that receives federal funds. (The National Park Service provides grants for CTHPO operations.)
According to documents filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Rostad, the government will seek $44,546 in restitution from Chandler and $73,046 from Denny. Denny plans to challenge the government’s calculations. The amount involved could affect sentencing.
The third defendant, Frederick Paul Deputee Jr., 25, pleaded guilty to a count of larceny. He was accused stealing $15,325 from GCM Services, a subcontractor hired by Westmoreland Resources to do archaeological work in advance of a planned expansion of its Absaloka coal mine at Sarpy Creek.
Deputee was not a CTHPO employee, but is the grandson of former CTHPO director Dale Old Horn, 67. Old Horn hired mostly family members to serve as archaeological technicians to monitor construction and other developments on the reservation. Their job was to ensure that areas of cultural or historic importance were protected.
Old Horn is awaiting trial on an indictment that charges him with bypassing tribal requirements that companies contracting with CTHPO pay the tribe for monitoring services. The indictment charges that instead, Old Horn began instructing companies to pay monitors directly. Monitors purportedly charged $400 a day. Those who were employed by CTHPO were also being paid by the tribe for the same hours, documents said.
Chandler told U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull that the tribe paid him $10 an hour for being in the office and $25 for work in the field.
The government contends that monitors were reimbursed for far more hours than they actually worked.
From July 2009 to November 2011, more than $500,000 in monitoring-service payments from companies doing business on the reservation were paid to CTHPO employees and two non-employees, including Deputee.
Deputee and Denny were among five monitors assigned to the Westmoreland project. A GCM representative told government investigators that the monitors often didn’t show up, and that when they did, they worked only for one to three hours.
Denny said he did work the hours he was paid for by both the tribe and the companies he was monitoring, and that he was assigned to the Westmoreland project for only a week. Old Horn made out and submitted the invoices to the companies for him, he said.
Deputee admitted that he billed for hours he didn’t work.
On their watch, a 2,000-year-old bison kill site was excavated near the proposed expansion of Westmoreland’s strip mine. The excavation, which involved heavy equipment, destroyed the site, angering many on the reservation who claimed that tribal officials and elders were not informed and that the kill site should have been preserved.
Cebull set May 1 as sentencing date for all three defendants. Other counts charged against them in the indictment will be dismissed, including charges of conspiracy to defraud the Crow Tribe and corrupt diversion of tribal revenues.