Lester Thompson, Jr., chairman of the Crow Creek Tribal Council, said Friday the tribal government is in financial straits and may have to lay off employees in the wake of an embezzlement scandal in which four leaders have been charged in federal court.
“There is a financial shortfall,” Thompson told the Capital Journal from tribal offices in Fort Thompson in response to questions raised at a court hearing Friday in Pierre. “Actions have been taken to address the shortfall. Some of these actions are going to be — hopefully short-term — layoffs.”
Friday morning, Tribal Council Member and Treasurer Roland Hawk, Sr., former Chairwoman Roxanne Sazue, who works in the tribe’s finance offices with tribal employees Francine Middletent and Jacquelyn Pease, made initial appearances in federal court in Pierre on charges of embezzling more than $1,000 from the tribe. (The $1,000 figure is a statutory threshold in federal law that does not necessarily reflect the amount of money prosecutors allege the four embezzled.)
They also are charged with aiding and abetting each other in embezzling the money.
The charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if they were found guilty.
The four were arrested Thursday, July 10, and spent the night in the Hughes County Jail in Pierre.
Attorneys at the hearing mentioned the tribe’s financial difficulties.
Because U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Moreno in Pierre was not available, the four sat, shackled and handcuffed in orange-striped clothes, in the federal court room in Pierre while U.S. Magistrate Judge Veronica Duffy presided via interactive TV from Sioux Falls. The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Jehangiri and Sioux Falls attorney Clint Sargent, retained by Hawk, also appeared via TV from a federal court room in Sioux Falls.
Hawk, who is 50, hired Sargent earlier this year to defend him against federal charges of sexually assaulting a young woman in Fort Thompson, to which he pleaded not guilty in April. That charge carries a top sentence of life in prison if he were convicted.
Duffy told him on Friday that he was being held for now by U.S. marshals because a related sex assault charge out of Las Vegas, Nevada, involving the sister of his alleged assault victim in Fort Thompson has become, “very recently,” an extraditable offense.
That means if the federal court in South Dakota releases him pending further disposition on the embezzlement charges, Nevada authorities could come and take him to Las Vegas, Duffy told Hawk.
The Nevada charges against Hawk had until recently been “non-extraditable,” meaning Nevada authorities could only take him into custody if he was in Nevada.
Duffy made it clear federal officials in South Dakota want to keep Hawk in South Dakota.
Duffy on Friday appointed three Pierre attorneys as public defenders for Sazue, Middletent and Pease — Margo Northrup, Wade Fischer and Terra Fisher, respectively — saying the three defendants’ financial affidavits indicated they qualified for court-appointed attorney paid for by the court.
The three attorneys appeared with their clients in court in Pierre on Friday.
Before the hearing began at 10:02 a.m., a U.S. marshall loosened each defendant’s right hand from handcuffs for the proceeding.
Duffy told the four she entered routine not guilty pleas for them for the initial appearance.
The magistrate judge released the three women on personal recognizance bonds, ordering them not to discuss the case with each other.
Fischer, attorney for Middletent, asked Duffy if it was OK that the three women worked in the tribal financial offices in the same building in Fort Thompson.
Duffy said she would leave it up to the tribe’s discretion as to what the three women’s job duties would be in light of the federal embezzlement charges.
Middletent, who is 55, served from 2016-2018 on the tribal council, when Sazue, now 62, was chairwoman of the council. Pease, 34, works in the tribal financial offices with Middletent and Sazue. Hawk is tribal treasurer.
Pease is Hawk’s first cousin.
She also is pregnant, which was mentioned by prosecutor Jehangiri as a possible issue because she likely will be on maternity leave from her job in the tribal finance office. Jehangiri said he did not object to the three women being released to possibly work again in the same jobs, leaving it up to the tribal government to oversee them.
“They may be fired,” Jehangiri told Duffy.
After the hearing, Tribal Chairman Thompson released a statement about the case: “Action is being taken by me in accordance with policies and procedures of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe pertaining to the three tribal finance employees,” he said, referring to Sazue, Middletent and Pease.
As to Hawk, who is tribal treasurer and one of seven elected members of the tribal council, Thompson said: “Due to the severity of the current charges, I am placing the council member on indefinite suspension without pay until definitive action is taken by the sitting council in accordance with the (tribal) constitution and by laws of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe.”
Thompson told the Capital Journal that the tribe has about 3,500 enrolled members, and about 2,300 of them live on the reservation that stretches on the east side of the Missouri from about 30 miles southeast of Pierre to about 30 miles north of Chamberlain.
Duffy told Hawk she was going to keep him detained in U.S. marshals’ custody in South Dakota — perhaps in the Hughes County Jail in Pierre — because of the outstanding sexual assault warrant from Nevada.
If his attorney, Sargent, “can get that warrant extinguished, you can ask for release,” Duffy told Hawk.
After the half-hour hearing, Sazue, Middletent and Pease were told their families could pick them up at the Hughes County Jail over the noon hour.
Sazue’s husband and son attended the hearing.
Halona Hall and Leatrice Seaboy attended Friday’s hearing in Pierre, saying as tribal members from the Big Bend district of the Crow Creek reservation, they have a stake in the news and the case.
“We figured it was going on all the time,” Hall said of the alleged embezzlement.
The Crow Creek tribal council recently borrowed $45,000 from the Big Bend district committee in order to meet payroll for tribal government employees, illustrating the money troubles caused by the embezzlement, Hall told the Capital Journal.
“I go to every Council meeting,” Hall said. “They’ve got too many people working.”
Seaboy said that every Indian reservation faces the same problems, but that it’s been too obvious for too long at Crow Creek that mismanagement and worse had meant money going where it wasn’t supposed to go.
“”When you control the money, you control the people,” Seaboy said. “The tribal council controls everything — gaming, the school, IHS — because they sit on all the boards.”
Hall and Seaboy said Roland Hawk lived large, with expensive new vehicles and spreading his wealth out to friends and family.
The arrests made Thursday and others she and Hall have heard are coming, are encouraging signs that finally notice is being taken of the misbehavior by some Crow Creek leaders and employees, Seaboy and Hall said.
“We just need someone to come in and do something,” Seaboy told the Capital Journal.
She and Hall credit the new tribal chairman, Lester Thompson, Jr., who succeeded Sazue in April 2018.
“I’m glad Lester is doing a good job,” Seaboy told the Capital Journal.
U.S. Attorney Ron Parsons said Friday in a news release that the case is part of “The Guardians Project.” He said that’s a “federal law enforcement initiative to coordinate efforts between participating agencies to promote citizen disclosure of public corruptions, fraud and embezzlement involving federal program funds, contracts, and grants and to hold accountable those who are responsible for adversely affecting those living in South Dakota’s Indian Country communities.”
The Guardians Project includes the FBI, the offices of the inspector general for federal departments of the interior, health and Human Services, Social Security Administration, Agriculture, Transportation, Education, Justice and Housing and Urban Development; as well as the IRS, the U.S. Postal Inspector Service.
For more information on the Project, Parsons said people can call the U.S. attorney’s office at (605) 330-4400.
The third of three governors statues was placed on the southeast corner of N. Euclid Avenue and E. Capital Avenue in Pierre on Friday morning, July 12.
A bronze statue of Gov. Samuel H. Elrod, fifth governor of the state, from Clark, who served from 1905-07 arose at about 9 a.m. The statue’s sculptor was James Van Nuys.
With Elrod’s statue being erected, 25 of the 31 former South Dakota governors’ statues are now complete.
The Trail of Governors project intends to eventually have bronze statues of all former South Dakota governors interspersed around the capital city. It began eight years ago.
Plans were to have three new statues unveiled each year. Each statue costs approximately $72,000, funded through civilian donations.
The three latest statues are of Samuel H. Elrod; Archie Gubbrud, the 22nd governor; and Dennis Daugaard, the state’s 32nd and most recent former governor.
All three statues were initially unveiled on June 14.
The number of former governors and the number of statues will not match, because William Janklow was the 27th (1979-1987) as well as the 30th governor (1995-2003).
Traditions sometimes change.
The most recent statues did not have to wait weeks or even months, either in the Capitol rotunda or at the State Museum, before being placed at their permanent outdoor locations.
Daugaard’s statue was placed within hours on June 14 at the east side of Capitol Lake and near the Governor’s Residence. Gubbrud’s statue’s site is near South Pierre Street and E. Pleasant Avenue and was erected soon after Daugaard’s.
The permanent placing of Elrod’s statue was delayed, waiting for its rectangular base to be created. Sculptor James Van Nuys was so detailed that hinges are visible in the table door. Among many other accomplishments, Elrod was key in building the State Capitol building and in acquiring the land for the State Fair complex.
For all locations of the current statues, as well as a myriad of other information, see the Trail of Governors tourism brochure.
The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks (GFP) has confirmed the presence of zebra mussels in Lake Sharpe, a mainstem Missouri River reservoir.
Boaters enjoying Lake Sharpe should be aware that the waterbody is now classified as infested for zebra mussels and precautions must be taken to prevent spreading mussels to other waters.
“The mussels were initially discovered by members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers while performing maintenance at Big Bend Dam, at the lower end of Lake Sharpe,” said Fisheries Chief John Lott. “They were positively identified as zebra mussels by GFP staff. Additional sampling efforts by GFP and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have confirmed that adult zebra mussels are present in multiple areas in the lower portion of the lake.”
In South Dakota Since 2015
Reproducing populations of zebra mussels were discovered in Lewis and Clark Lake and the Missouri River below Gavins Point Dam in 2015. The discovery of the mussels in Lake Sharpe indicates their continued spread upstream in the mainstem Missouri River system.
Initial surveys conducted in Lake Francis Case, immediately below Big Bend Dam, have not shown the presence of adult zebra mussels. The elevation of Lake Francis Case is drawn down 20 feet each fall. Mussels less than 20-feet deep would dry out or freeze over the winter, meaning any existing mussels may be harder to find. Additional mussel surveys will be conducted in the coming weeks to determine the extent of the infestation in Lake Sharpe and if zebra mussels are also present in Lake Francis Case.
“The discovery zebra mussels in Lake Sharpe is a game changer for Aquatic Invasive Species management in South Dakota,” said Lott. “Sharpe and Francis Case are two of the most used lakes in South Dakota. Many anglers and recreational boaters who use these lakes are from other areas and use their local lakes soon after being on Sharpe or Francis Case.”
What is a Zebra Mussel?
Zebra mussels are small, invasive clams native to the Black and Caspian seas in Eastern Europe. Although usually less than an inch in size as adults, they can rapidly reproduce and spread under the right conditions. These mussels can attach to vegetation and hard surfaces, forming dense colonies that can clog intakes for hydroelectric dams, water supplies and irrigation pipes, causing significant economic damages. Zebra mussels may also compete with native species, alter water quality, damage boat motors and docks, and their sharp shells can wash up on shorelines in large numbers.
Zebra mussels can produce up to one million eggs per year, rapidly colonizing new waters. The larval stage of zebra mussels, called veligers, are smaller than the width of a human hair and nearly impossible to detect due to their size. This makes South Dakota’s boat draining and fish and bait transportation laws even more critical in stopping the spread of this species. Veligers float in water for up to a month. This means they can be easily transported to new water bodies in even small amounts of water remaining anywhere in a boat, bait container, or gear used during a fishing or boating trip. While it is difficult to determine exactly how mussels entered Lake Sharpe, all boaters and anglers can help prevent introducing the mussels to new waters.
Help Stop the Spread
Every time they leave the water, boaters and anglers should:
Clean watercraft and trailers of all aquatic plants and mud
Drain all water by removing all drains, plugs, bailers, or valves that retain water
Dispose of unwanted bait in trash or fish cleaning stations when leaving the water
Completely draining a boat is the first step in making sure invasive species are not transferred to other waters. Boaters who have used any water body should clean their boats with hot water (140 degrees) or let them completely dry for at least 5 days before launching in other water bodies.
For more information on zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species, visit sdleastwanted.com.
Farmers and ranchers, employees and self-employed individuals in 16 counties and reservations across South Dakota who are unable to work as a result of the severe winter storms and flooding from March 13 to April 26 may be eligible for disaster unemployment assistance.
Funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in coordination with the U.S. Department of Labor, the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program is administered locally.
The state Department of Labor and Regulation is accepting applications through Monday, July 15 from all counties and reservations (except Turner) that have been declared for Individual Assistance.
For those in Turner County, the deadline is Friday, July 26.
Individuals can register by calling the Claims Call Center (605) 626-3179, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:20 p.m. CDT.
Specify that your claim is related to disaster unemployment and the severe storms that occurred between mid-March and late April.
Benefits are available for qualifying individuals in Bennett, Bon Homme, Charles Mix, Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, Dewey, Hutchinson, Jackson, Mellette, Minnehaha, Oglala Lakota, Pine Ridge Reservation, Rosebud Reservation, Todd, Turner, Yankton and Ziebach counties.
Among the conditions for eligibility: Applicants must not qualify for regular unemployment benefits from any state.
For further information, go to the Department of Labor and Regulation’s DUA webpage at https://dlr.sd.gov/ui/individuals/dua.aspx. For a Fact Sheet on FEMA’s Disaster Unemployment Assistance program, go on the agency’s website to https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/24418.
The latest Pierre Senior Center Thursday potluck, July 11, saw 70 old and new friends participating in the annual summer picnic.
Board members prepared hamburgers, brats, and beans. Senior center members and guests provided salads and desserts for a well-received meal.
“Everyone left with a very full stomach,” said Don Zeller. “Our program for the day was a presentation by Ed Hemmelman sharing the significant Fourth of July events. Ed told us about why fireworks are so important to most of us at this time. Also, we learned about the United States presidents who were born on July 4, and the presidents who passed away on July 4. As a final tribute, Ed played “Taps” on his bugle. Ed is a retired Marine.”
Next Thursday’s entertainment is Pierre’s own retired pharmacist, Sandy Jacobson, who will share many insights on healthy living and many other health issues that are important to senior citizens as well as others