HELENA, Montana — A former chairman of the Chippewa Cree tribe plans to plead guilty to theft and bribery charges in a deal with federal prosecutors after he was accused of accepting a $25,000 vehicle from a Havre businessman as a reward for past dealings.
If approved by a federal judge, Bruce Sunchild's plea agreement will be the latest conviction in a sweeping corruption investigation that has targeted misused federal money on the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.
The probe already has netted guilty pleas from multiple tribal officials and the consultants and companies awarded contracts for work from a 50-mile water pipeline to repairing flood-damaged buildings on the reservation.
The plea agreement filed Wednesday calls for the U.S. Attorney's Office to drop three other charges against Sunchild and not to pursue future charges except for income-tax evasion.
Sunchild will plead guilty to accepting a bribe and stealing tribal money with the help of Havre businessman Shad Huston and tribal officials Tony Belcourt and John "Chance" Houle.
A change-of-plea hearing has not yet been set.
Prosecutors said Sunchild and Belcourt authorized $300,000 in payments to a consulting company owned by Huston. In return, Huston bought a sport utility vehicle for about $25,000 in 2011, and the vehicle's title was transferred to Sunchild's daughter, prosecutors said.
The next year, Sunchild authorized the payment of $27,200 to another Huston business and received $15,000 in return, prosecutors said.
The deal comes nearly a month after Huston pleaded guilty to theft and bribery charges. Huston's attorney said the SUV was a reward for past business dealings, and not a bribe to influence business transactions.
Belcourt was previously sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison in a separate indictment.
Houle has pleaded not guilty to taking kickbacks for contracts and embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the tribe's rodeo association.
All content copyright ©2014 Daily Journal, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.