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Chippewa Cree tribal jury clears chairman Ken St. Marks of fraud charges

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HELENA, Montana — A Chippewa Cree tribal court jury has cleared tribal chairman Ken St. Marks of allegations that he defrauded the tribe and ordered the tribe to pay him more than $200,000 for his company's work on a pipeline project, his attorney said Tuesday.

But attorneys for both sides reached opposing conclusions over whether jurors believed St. Marks and his Arrow Enterprises conspired to defraud the tribe.

St. Marks was elected chairman of the tribal business committee in 2012. He has been thrown out of office and re-elected three times since. Council members have said that St. Marks defrauded the tribe with shoddy and incomplete work on a pipeline project and overcharged the tribe for leasing equipment.

St. Marks has argued that he was impeached for cooperating with a federal fraud investigation that led to the conviction of nearly two dozen tribal members and business associates for paying bribes and taking kickbacks to award contracts paid for with federal money. No federal charges have been filed against St. Marks.

During last week's trial, the tribe said St. Marks was unjustly enriched by receiving over $428,000 from the tribe for pipeline work and equipment leases. The jury rejected those claims, and it said the tribe owed St. Marks $214,000 in damages for payment the tribe withheld on another pipeline contract.

Attorney Richard Zack with the Pepper Hamilton law firm in Philadelphia said the judge has requested both sides to submit legal briefs on the issue of whether any monetary award is proper.

It was the jury's finding on the conspiracy claim that was not clear.

The first question on the jury form asks: "Do you find that there was a civil conspiracy to defraud the Tribe." The jurors answered yes, but they did not award the tribe any damages.

"The jury returned a partial verdict finding that Ken St. Marks conspired to defraud the Chippewa Cree Tribe," Zack said in a statement.

St. Marks' attorney, Jeff Rasmussen with the Fredericks Peebles & Morgan law firm, said he believes jurors were referring to the overall conspiracy involving the tribal members and others who have pleaded guilty or have been convicted of defrauding the tribe. He said he planned to ask the judge to throw that finding out, saying it was inconsistent with the rest of the verdict.

Zack also noted jurors did not award St. Marks all of the money he sought in his lawsuit.

The tribe's business committee "is now evaluating its obligations to its members in light of the finding of fraud" against St. Marks, Zack said.

In March, the inspector general's office within the U.S. Department of Interior ordered the tribe to pay St. Marks $648,000 for back pay and attorney's fees for ousting him from office based on unsubstantiated allegations. The tribe is appealing that award.

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