Chippewa Cree tribal court upholds 2013 election, St. Marks sworn in as tribal chairman

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HAVRE, Montana — The chairman of the Chippewa Cree Tribe — who was suspended more than 18 months ago and re-elected months later — was sworn in to office Thursday afternoon.

The tribal council said it suspended Ken Blatt St. Marks in March 2013 for neglect of his duties and misconduct, but St. Marks said the real reason was his cooperation with a federal corruption investigation.

St. Marks received 453 votes in a July 2013 special election compared to 315 for Richard Morsette and 192 for Jonathan Windy Boy. However, the tribe's Election Board invalidated the results because 12 prison inmates cast their votes in a van and may not have used the proper identification.

The Havre Daily News reports (http://bit.ly/1uj4ugE ) the tribal appeals court on Wednesday upheld a tribal court ruling that said even with the 12 questionable votes invalidated, St. Marks still would have won.

"Though the Election Board was correct in finding a violation of the Election Ordinance, in this case, the particular violation had no practical effect in the outcome of the election," the appeals court wrote.

St. Marks issued a statement Wednesday saying the "final decision from the tribe's highest court brings this long and disruptive dispute to a close. The people voted me and it is time to get to work."

When St. Marks was suspended in March 2013, he said corruption may be costing the tribe millions of dollars.

Since then, several former tribal leaders, members and contractors have pleaded guilty to embezzlement as well as accepting bribes and kickbacks for awarding contracts for construction of a health clinic, a water pipeline and road work.

Former state Rep. Tony Belcourt was sentenced in August to 7 1/2 years in federal prison and was ordered to pay $667,000 in restitution for embezzling federal money meant for construction projects on the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.


Information from: Havre Daily News, http://www.havredailynews.com

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