Defendants in Crow corruption case avoid prison after judge rejects government's claims


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BILLINGS, Montana — The remaining defendants in a corruption scheme on Montana's Crow Indian Reservation were spared prison time at their sentencing Wednesday after a federal judge rejected prosecutors' claims of significant financial damages.

The case against former Crow Tribe historic preservation director Dale Old Horn, his son, Allen, and Shawn Talking Eagle Danforth revolved around cultural monitoring work they did for the tribe and private companies. One of the sites they oversaw was a 2,000-year-old bison killing grounds irreparably damaged after excavation work approved by Dale Old Horn in 2011.

Prosecutors had asserted the defendants gouged the outside companies out of more than $500,000.

But U.S. District Judge Susan Watters said Wednesday that the defendants engaged in a more limited "double-dipping scheme" that cost the tribe less than $50,000.

As a result, the defendants will retain the payments received from the companies — money they insisted all along that they had earned.

Watters called the defendant's convictions an "aberration" amid otherwise spotless criminal histories, and rejected prison sentences of up to three years that had been sought by prosecutors.

She sentenced the Old Horns to seven days in prison, with credit for seven days they had already served, plus four months of home detention and three years of supervised release.

They were held jointly liable for $48,000 in restitution. That was for damages suffered by the tribe when members of the Old Horn family and others charged companies for work that the tribe was also paying them for.

Danforth received 5 years of probation and was ordered to pay $8,560 in restitution. Watters noted he had played a lesser role in the scheme.

Allen Old Horn's attorney, Jay Lansing, criticized prosecutors for offering a "moving target" as its legal theories changed over the course of the case. Dale Old Horn's attorney, Matthew Wald, noted that his client did not personally pocket any money through a scheme that prosecutors said he had orchestrated with his son.

"The government's theory when the case started out was, 'Mr. Old Horn, you took $500,000. Eat it,'" Wald said. But "it was wages paid by companies for work done. It simply makes this case different."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris McLean objected to Wednesday's sentences but said there was nothing illegal about them.

A jury last August convicted the Old Horns and Danforth of conspiracy, mail fraud, theft from an organization receiving federal funds and theft from a tribal organization. Four other defendants previously were found guilty after reaching plea deals with prosecutors.

For a time, it appeared the Old Horns and Danforth might avoid paying restitution altogether.

Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote — Dale Old Horn's nephew — sent tribal secretary Alvin Not Afraid to a hearing in February in which Not Afraid said the tribe's losses were not as significant as prosecutors maintained. And prior restitution awards against the other defendants more than covered the $48,000.

But the government later moved to reduce the restitution sentences against two of the defendants who signed plea deals. That meant the Old Horns could be held jointly liable for the tribe's damages.

Prosecutors acknowledged in court filings that they dropped the ball. Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Rostad said that if the government had included fraud perpetrated against the outside companies, it would have been able to bring additional charges and seek more restitution.

Of the defendants previously sentenced, three received five years of probation. The fourth, Dale Old Horn's grandson, Martin Old Horn, was sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty to mail fraud and student aid fraud.

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