Blackfeet consultant gets 5 years for kickbacks in mental health fraud case

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GREAT FALLS, Montana — A consultant for the Blackfeet Indian tribe who was convicted in a multi-million dollar fraud case and for bankruptcy fraud was sentenced Wednesday to five years in prison and ordered to pay $1.7 million in restitution.

Gary Joseph Conti, 68, of Three Forks, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Great Falls to five years on each of 29 counts, to run concurrently.

Prosecutors alleged Conti, a retired Oklahoma State University professor, received $475,000 from August 2008 to August 2011 as a consultant for a federally funded program for troubled youth, the Po'Ka Project. Conti was found guilty of kicking back $225,000 to Po'Ka Project director Delyle "Shanny" Augare and assistant director Francis Onstad.

Prosecutors alleged the defendants stole money from the program or falsified invoices to make it look like the tribe was making necessary contributions to the program to keep the federal money coming in.

A federal audit found the losses due to fraud and mismanagement amounted to $4.6 million out of the $9.3 million the project received from 2005 to 2011. The money was to set up a children's mental health system that would be supported by the tribe without federal assistance. It closed in 2011 when the federal funding ended.

Augare was sentenced in June to three and a half years in prison, while Onstad was sentenced to three years. Both were ordered to pay $1 million in restitution.

Three others have been convicted in the case, which is part of a broader investigation into corruption on Indian reservations in Montana.

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