Tribe celebrates land return

In 2010, Brandon Sazue, Crow Creek tribal chairman, spoke to tribal members at a celebration of a settlement with the IRS that will allow the tribe to regain 7,112 acres of land that was sold to pay off tax debt. (Capital Journal)

Brandon Sazue, a former chairman of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe was charged last week in federal court in Pierre with embezzling — with four other tribal leaders charged last month — from the tribe.

Sazue, who is 45 and lives in Chamberlain, appeared Friday, Aug. 9, in court and pleaded not guilty to the grand jury’s indictment handed down Aug. 6, according to U.S. Attorney Ron Parsons.

Sazue has served several two-year terms as chairman of the Crow Creek tribe based in Fort Thompson, including his last election in 2016 when he succeeded his aunt, Roxanne Sazue, who did not run for rel-election. She was in the same courtroom in Pierre on July 12 with three other tribal leaders — former council member and current treasurer on leave, Roland Hawk, Sr., Francine Maria Middletent and Jaquelyn Pease — facing the same charges.

Parsons says the four embezzled and used for their personal spending money from the tribe from March 2014, or earlier, until February 2019.

If convicted, the each could face 5 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of probation.

During the time of the alleged thefts, Brandon Sazue was tribal chairman, or Roxanne Sazue was; Hawk served as tribal treasurer and Middletent was on the tribal council. The three women also worked for Hawk in the tribe’s finance office and all four had access to funds embezzled from the tribe, Parsons said.

Hawk, who is facing separate charges of sexual assault against teenage girls, remains in federal custody, behind bars in the Hughes County Jail in Pierre, a jail official told the Capital Journal.

The other four were released on bond. A trial date for all five has been set for Sept. 10.

The case is part of the “Guardians Project,” involving many agencies aimed at promoting “citizen disclosure of public corruption,” involving federal program funds, contracts and grants, according to Parsons.

Embezzlement is not new at the Crow Creek reservation.

Several tribal members have told the Capital Journal it continues to be widespread.

This is not the first time for Middletent: In September 1994, when she was 31, Middletent pleaded guilty in federal court to embezzling more than $50,000 from the Crow Creek tribe’s liquor store in Fort Thompson while she worked in the financial office of the tribe, according to news reports and federal court documents.

In December 2018 in a case also part of the Guardians Project, Lana Steele, then 53 and the former tribal financial officer, was sentenced to four years probation and $11,500 restitution for embezzlement from the tribe.

In September 2017, Tally Colombe, then 42, was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison for embezzling from a tribal investment fund she ran, using a tribal credit card to buy herself things a dozen stores in Pierre and Fort Pierre. .

A federal prosecutor said Colombe’s thefts led to the investment fund going down the tubes owing $550,000.

Then-Chairman Brandon Sazue was in court in Pierre for Colombe’s sentencing in 2017 and told the Capital Journal she should have gotten a stiffer sentence.

“To be honest, justice wasn’t served,” he said. “The sentence should have been longer. We need to send a message and the message is not a slap on the wrist for all the things that were done.”

Last month, current Tribal Chairman Lester Thompson, Jr., said the tribal government is in financial straits and may have to lay off employees in the wake of embezzlement scandal involving the five tribal leaders set for federal trial next month.

“There is a financial shortfall,” Thompson told the Capital Journal. “Actions have been taken to address the shortfall. Some of these actions are going to be — hopefully short-term — layoffs.”

In 2010, three Crow Creek Sioux Tribe officials and a Fort Pierre contractor pleaded guilty to federal charges related to a bribery and retaliation case on the reservation.

Each faced up to 10 years in prison.

According to the Associated Press at the time, Archie Baumann, 59, owner of First Dakota Enterprises of Fort Pierre, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of bribery for attempting to influence the three officials, all of Fort Thompson.

Tribal Vice Chairman Randy Shields, 53, and Treasurer Norman Thompson Sr., 62, each pleaded guilty to a count of bribery. Secretary Thomas Thompson Sr., 34, pleaded guilty to a count of retaliation against tribal Chairman Brandon Sazue, who wore a wire to feed law officers with information on the case.

Court documents allege Baumann was trying to win a $383,000 construction contract to build homes on the reservation, and also lent the tribe more than $200,000.

Baumann gave Thomas Thompson a $2,000 check and gave $1,000 each to Shields and Norman Thompson, through an unnamed party, to influence the council members to continue hiring First Dakota Enterprises and have the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe borrow money from Baumann, according to court records.

In December 2008, the tribal council suspended Sazue from his duties as tribal chairman. He was reinstated after the federal indictments were filed.

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