Chippewa Cree tribal chairman denies allegations his construction company defrauded tribe

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GREAT FALLS, Montana — The on-again, off-again chairman of the Chippewa Cree Tribe has denied allegations that he defrauded the tribe with exaggerated claims by his construction company and by overcharging for equipment rental.

The tribe's business committee raised the accusations over $2.3 million in contracts when it removed Ken Blatt St. Marks from office Nov. 21. St. Marks was sworn the previous day, after a tribal appeals court upheld the results of a special election in which he was re-elected after being suspended in March 2013.

Committee members said they ousted St. Marks in 2013 for allegedly verbally assaulting tribal employees, making an inappropriate sexual advance toward an employee, and trading in two tribally owned vehicles for a Cadillac Escalade for his personal use.

St. Marks has said committee members made up the allegations because he was cooperating with a federal corruption investigation. That probe has led to several tribal members pleading guilty to demanding kickbacks for the awarding of tribal contracts on the Rocky Boy's Reservation in north-central Montana.

No federal charges have been filed against St. Marks, who owns Arrow Enterprises.

Among the recent allegations is that St. Marks failed to complete work on a $1.9 million project, did not properly excavate and install water lines, and did unsatisfactory and substandard work.

St. Marks denied the allegations Tuesday in an interview with the Great Falls Tribune.

He said his company's work was done as a subcontractor for the tribally owned Chippewa Cree Construction Co. and overseen by the Bureau of Reclamation and an engineering firm.

Chippewa Cree Construction's former CEO Tony Belcourt is serving more than seven years in prison for theft, accepting bribes and income tax fraud.

St. Marks said the engineering firm that oversaw his work submitted the bills to Belcourt, who then paid him.

Dean Stockert, an AE2S engineer who has overseen at least a portion of the work on the North Central Pipeline, confirmed his company provided "resident project representation" for Chippewa Cree Construction. He declined to comment about the quality of Arrow Enterprises' work.

Another allegation is that St. Marks' company submitted fraudulent equipment rental invoices to the tribe for work done on a sewer lagoon project. The committee said St. Marks received payments of nearly $355,000 by offering kickbacks to individuals for payment of the invoices.

St. Marks said he had a contract, although he acknowledged he bid it high because he did not want to rent his equipment to the tribe. He said he also required that his employees do the work. Former tribal chairman Bruce Sunchild signed the contract, St. Marks said.

Sunchild pleaded guilty last month to two counts of theft, income tax evasion and accepting a bribe. His sentencing is set for Jan. 29.

Prosecutors said Sunchild told the director of the Rocky Boy's Health Clinic to write checks for $12,500 to his son and another person in 2012. They allege he received kickbacks for awarding tribal contracts, under-reported his income and accepted a $25,000 vehicle in 2011 after awarding $300,000 in payments from the tribe to a Havre consulting company.

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