HELENA — One of the six people charged with embezzling money from and doctoring contributions to a $9.3 million federal program for troubled youth in the Blackfeet Indian tribe has reached a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Charlotte New Breast, the administrative assistant for the now-defunct Po’Ka Project, will plead guilty to a single count of theft from a tribal government receiving federal funds, under the agreement filed Thursday in U.S. District Court.
In return, prosecutors plan to dismiss 23 charges of conspiracy and wire fraud.
“She was merely an administrative assistant to this program. Her involvement was limited,” New Breast attorney Jeffry Foster said of his client.
The remaining charge carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. A change-of-plea hearing has not been set.
Foster said he could not comment further on the case, other than to say her plea change should not be representative of anybody else’s guilt or innocence.
Five other defendants, including project leaders Francis Onstad and Delyle “Shanny” Augare, face 37 criminal counts. They have pleaded not guilty.
They are accused of stealing money from the program and doctoring invoices to embellish the contributions the tribe was supposed to make to keep the federal grant money coming.
The project received $9.3 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over six years starting in 2005, with the intention that it become a reservation-wide children’s mental health system supported by the Blackfeet tribe without federal assistance.
Onstad was the program’s director. Augare, the assistant director, is the father of Blackfeet Tribal Business Council member and state Sen. Shannon Augare.
Also charged are former Oklahoma State University and Montana State University professor Gary Conti, who was the national monitor for the Po’Ka Project; Dorothy Still Smoking, a local evaluator for the project; and Katheryn Sherman, the project’s former in-kind coordinator.
A trial date has been set for Jan. 13.