5 Accused of Diverting Stimulus Money For Tribe

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A Chippewa Cree tribal leader, a former state lawmaker and three others used a fake billing system and a shell company to pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal stimulus aid meant for the Montana tribe, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

The Chippewa Cree Tribe received $33 million in federal funding between 2009 and 2010 for construction of a $361 million pipeline to supply fresh drinking water for the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation and surrounding counties in northern Montana. Most of that $33 million came from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment act, also known as the stimulus.

The CEO of the tribal company that headed the pipeline project, Chippewa Cree Construction Corp., awarded contracts and authorized cash transfers in a complex web of transactions to embezzle and launder the money, according to the indictment unsealed Tuesday.

The cash ended up in the bank accounts of intermediaries and in a tribal rodeo account controlled by tribal council member John Chance Houle.

More than $100,000 was used to start a Billings pipe supply company owned by the construction company’s CEO and contracting officer, former Rep. Tony Belcourt. His new company, MT Waterworks, was later awarded a $633,000 stimulus contract to supply the water pipeline project.

Another $62,000 was used to buy a house in Box Elder in the name of Belcourt’s wife, Hailey Lee Belcourt.

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