A former president of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe is set to plead guilty in federal court to charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud the federal government.
Lawrence Jace Killsback, whose tumultuous tenure in office ended with his resignation in September, was formally charged in U.S. District Court in Billings on Monday after signing a plea agreement last week. The agreement calls for him to plead guilty to one count each of wire fraud and False Claims Act conspiracy.
In exchange, prosecutors would agree to reduce their recommended sentencing range for Killsback and would not move to hold him in detention prior to sentencing.
He faces up to 20 years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine for the wire fraud charge. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum prison term of 10 years and a $250,000 fine. The plea agreement also requires him to pay restitution for any money he fraudulently received.
Prosecutors allege that at some time between 2014 and 2017, Killsback was requesting reimbursement for the same travel expenses from both the tribe and the federal government, “as well as providing false and fraudulent invoices to multiple entities for official travel that either did not occur or only occurred in part.”
The scheme resulted in Killsback receiving excessive payments based on fraudulent documents, the charges state. The federal wire fraud charge stems from false information transmitted to banks across state lines.
During the same time frame, Killsback, along with co-conspirators not named in the charges, allegedly “knowingly and intentionally agreed and conspired to defraud the United States” through those fraudulent payments. No other defendants had been publicly named in the case as of Tuesday morning.
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The charges do not state whether Killsback’s alleged conduct occurred multiple times, or whether it happened during his time as the tribe’s president. Killsback was the Northern Cheyenne Tribe’s health director from 2014 through 2016 until taking office as president in November 2016. The amount of money he fraudulently obtained is also not specified in the charges.
During his tenure, Killsback clashed frequently with members of the tribal council who accused him of improprieties both as president and during his term as health director. The council voted to remove Killsback from office in October 2017, citing a complaint filed by Councilman Dana Eaglefeathers that alleged “gross neglect” of his duties as president and argued he had violated the tribe’s bylaws, although the council did not publicly provide any further details.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs endorsed the council’s action, and a special presidential election was held Jan. 3, 2018. Killsback narrowly won re-election to the seat, by a 2-vote margin over his opponent, Donna Fisher.
That same day, the tribal council released a statement accusing Killsback of improperly transferring thousands of dollars’ worth of funding from a tribally-owned company. The council declined to publicly provide any details of its allegations, and it’s unclear whether those claims are related to Killsback’s federal charges.
Killsback ultimately resigned from office in October 2018, citing “obstacles and opposition at every step by the legislative branch” of the tribal government. Former Vice President Conrad Fisher served as acting president until Rynalea Whiteman Pena was sworn into the office after winning a special election in January 2019.
Killsback did not immediately return phone calls Tuesday morning.
Judge Susan Watters issued an order on Monday transferring the case to Magistrate Judge Timothy Cavan to schedule an initial appearance and change of plea. Prosecutors have asked for a change-of-plea hearing to be held next month.