(STL.News) – The Guardians Project anti-corruption task force today welcomed top officials from the U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Offices of Inspector General to a meeting about Montana’s efforts to fight federal program fraud, U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said.
DOI Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt and HHS Assistant Inspector General of Investigations Christian J. Schrank joined U.S. Attorney Alme and members of the Guardians task force to review the program and to recognize the contribution of tribal law enforcement. The Guardians Project investigates and prosecutes persons attempting to use federal funds for private gain.
Since 2013, the Guardians Project has resulted in more than 120 felony convictions, with 85 percent of those convicted receiving some term of incarceration, $3.6 million in fines, $16.5 million in restitution, $311,000 in forfeitures and $1 million in civil judgments. Prosecuted crimes include conspiracy, bribery, fraud, embezzlement, extortion, obstruction of justice, money laundering, blackmail and tax evasion.
“The Guardians Project is committed to making sure federal funds are used for the benefit of the intended recipients. In addition to prosecuting misuse of federal funds, task force members have provided training to Montana’s tribal governments and communities on how to properly administer grant funds, how to report misuse and how the reporters of misuse can be protected under whistleblower statutes,” U.S. Attorney Alme said.
“I want to thank our dedicated task force members and tribal law enforcement and tribal officials for working together to root out theft and to make sure the money is used as intended to help fund important programs, like Head Start,” U.S. Attorney Alme said. “In particular, I would like to recognize Ken Trottier, supervisory criminal inspector for the Fort Peck Tribes, for his exemplary work.”
The Guardians task force presented Ken Trottier with its first ever Guardians Shield Award in recognition of his work and collaboration with the task force.
“The Department of the Interior Office of Inspector General has a long-standing commitment to the Guardians Task Force. We look forward to continuing our joint efforts with the task force partners to identify fraud, hold wrongdoers accountable, and ensure Native American communities receive the intended funds and services,” said Mark Lee Greenblatt, Inspector General for the Department of Interior Office of the Inspector General.
“Federal health and human services programs are vital to communities across Montana. Therefore, it is imperative program funds are used for their intended Indian Country purposes,” said Christian J. Schrank, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations at the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “We will continue working with our federal and tribal law enforcement partners in the Guardians Project to address fraud, theft, and misuse of funds.”
This past year, some of the Guardians Project investigations included the following cases:
An overtime pay scheme in the Blackfeet Tribe’s Head Start program led to the convictions of six persons, including managers and the former tribal chairman. The theft of $174,000 hurt children enrolled in Head Start by prohibiting book purchases, barring the ability to obtain teaching materials and cutting food nutrition programs.
The former chairwoman and the former treasurer of the Montana Native Women’s Coalition Board were charged in an indictment accusing them of stealing federal grant funds to make unapproved trips to Las Vegas and to receive other unauthorized benefits. The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The Lame Deer-based coalition helps Native American victims of domestic and sexual violence.
An ex-law enforcement officer for the Fort Peck Tribes was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison for stealing $40,000 from a tribal program intended to help youth and for failing to pay taxes. The former officer proposed creating a Family Justice Center to help troubled youth but spent the money on personal items and services. The former officer also was ordered to pay $40,000 restitution to the tribe and $18,050 to the IRS.
The former president of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe pleaded guilty to wire fraud and false claims conspiracy in a travel scheme in which he admitted receiving $20,000 in improper reimbursements.
The Guardians Project, led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, works with the Office of Inspector General from DOI, HHS, the Department of Justice, the Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, the FBI, IRS’s Criminal Investigation Division and the Environmental Protection Agency.