A Havre businessman and former school board chair has pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, fraud and embezzlement at Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, with the government saying it would have proven he was one of the ringleaders of the conspiracy.
Shad James Huston pleaded guilty Monday in federal District Court in Great Falls to one charge in each of three cases, with other charges filed against him to be dismissed. Huston pleaded guilty to theft from an Indian tribal organization, failure to file currency transaction reports and bribery of a tribal official.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris set sentencing for Nov. 24, and continued Huston’s release until sentencing.
In his response to the prosecution’s claims of what it would prove at trial, Huston said much of what the government claimed could not be proven, but said he admitted to some of the elements which supported his guilty pleas. He said he would ask for the judge to consider his arguments about his alleged lesser offenses while imposing sentence.
The prosecution said if the cases went to trial, it could have proven that Huston received millions of dollars through tribal contracts. Two of his businesses, TMP Services and K & N Consulting, received almost $1.5 million between May 2011 and November 2012, and from 2010 through 2012 businesses associated with or owned by Huston received $3.6 million in tribal contracts.
Hunter Burns Construction, owned by Rocky Boy resident Hunter Burns and Rocky Boy psychologist James Howard Eastlick Jr. of Havre, received $2.4 million through contracts in the regional water system being built by Chippewa Cree Construction Corp. and hundreds of thousands of dollars more in flood-repair contracts, the prosecution said.
The prosecution said Huston and others involved in the conspiracy regularly met to concoct “Happy Meals,” plans about how and to whom to award contracts, how large the contracts would have to be to provide kickbacks, and how the proceeds would be distributed.
At the meetings, the prosecution said, Huston went by the nickname “Chumlee,” from the reality show “Pawnstars,” Eastlick went by the nickname “Ronald McDonald,” Chippewa Cree Construction CEO Tony Belcourt went by the nickname “Tony the Tiger,” tribal council member and former chair John “Chance” Houle went by the name “G” or “Triple G” — “G” for “greed” — with a tribal council member not named by the prosecution going by “Hamburglar.”
Eastlick, Belcourt and his wife, Hailey Belcourt, have pleaded guilty to charges and Hailey and Tony Belcourt have been sentenced.
Tony Belcourt is appealing his sentence of 7½ years followed by three years probation which also requires more than $667,000 in restitution.
Hailey Belcourt was sentenced to two months followed by three years probation and ordered to pay $156,000 in restitution.
Eastlick Jr ., along with his father, James Howard Eastlick Sr ., and sister, Tammy Leischner, who also have pleaded guilty, are scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 25.
Funding the Belcourts
The prosecution said it would have proven that Huston started making loans to the Belcourts with a $7,500 loan to Hailey Belcourt in June 2011, which she cashed at a Huston-associated business, a few weeks after receiving a $66,700 contract payment in Federal Emergency Disaster Agency funds.
In September, 10 days after receiving another Chippewa Cree Construction payment of $110,110, Huston wired $10,000 into the Belcourts’ bank account, which was $4,547 overdrawn, the prosecution said, and in November, after TMP received a check for $231,000 from the construction corporation, TMP issued a $5,000 check to Hailey Belcourt.
In November and December, the Belcourts overdrafted their ranch checking account by $250,000, and Dec. 22, 2011, K & N Consulting received a check from the Chippewa Cree Tribe for $300,000, the prosecution said, for “claims prep.” No documentation or supporting records justifying the payment were found.
K & N Consulting then issued a $200,000 check to Tony Belcourt, and Huston obtained a $100,000 cashier’s check payable to Belcourt which covered his overdraft, the prosecution said.
Of the remaining $100,000 of the payment to K & N, Huston and his business paid $24,977 to buy a Chevrolet Suburban for Belcourt, the title of which was then transferred to the daughter then-tribal council Chair Bruce Sunchild — also indicted this year for embezzlement — who was one of the officials approving the $300,000 check.
Huston paid $12,832 for repairs to a vehicle of Houle’s — he also was one of the officials approving the check — and a $20,000 check made out to “Cash” with the notation “Mervin Witford — on CCCC Rocky Boy’s Tribe.” Whitford is the brother of Theodore Whitford, who also approved the check, the prosecution said.
Huston and his business kept the remaining $42,200, the prosecution said.
In his response, Huston admitted to overbilling the tribe in a different instance, charging $120,000 for $4,000 of work dealing with road construction. He denied that the government could have proved the other elements of the crimes.
Bribing with a car
The bribery charge to which Huston pleaded guilty was about the car the government says he bought for Belcourt that was then transferred to Sunchild’s daughter.
Huston admitted to rewarding Sunchild but not to bribing him, with the difference being a reward is for past actions while a bribe is to influence future decisions. That impacts the sentencing guidelines, he said.
Failing to record
The other count to which Huston pleaded guilty was that he failed to file required reports with the government on transactions of $10,000 or more at businesses registered as money service businesses.
The prosecution said it could have proven that Huston cashed 19 checks of $10,000 or more, withdrawing money from his bank accounts to cover the transactions, and cashed three checks totalling $20,0000 for Hailey Belcourt and cashed six checks for another customer totalling $15,000, all of which would have required a report be filed.
The government could find no record of any reports being filed for the businesses, the prosecution said.
Huston said most of the transactions for various reasons did not require the report be filed. He asked the court to limit his punishment based on what he did admit.