In an agreement with prosecutors, Roxanne Sazue, former chair of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe at Fort Thomson, South Dakota, pleaded guilty this week in federal court in Pierre to embezzling from $15,000 to $40,000 from the tribe from about April 2014 or earlier, until about May 2016.
Earlier this month, a partner in the embezzlement, former tribal council member Tina Grey Owl, pleaded guilty to stealing more than $95,000 from her tribe.
Grey Owl, who is 63, pleaded guilty Sept. 5 in Pierre to embezzling the money while she was an elected member of the Tribal Council from May 2016 through April 2018 and prior to that when she worked as the payroll clerk for the tribe.
On Monday, Sept. 9, Sazue was in court admitting embezzling as much as $40,000 from the tribe’s General Welfare Account, the same account from which Grey Owl stole.
The women also admitted aiding each other and other tribal members — including Roland Hawk Sr., 50; Francine Middletent, 55; and Jacquelyn Pease, 34 — in the embezzlement scheme over five or more years.
In early August, former Tribal Chair Brandon Sazue, 45, was added to a superseding indictment in the case charged in the scheme. He is Roxanne Sazue’s nephew.
Grey Owl was a sixth co-defendant added in late August by an “information” sheet, not by indictment.
It was a scheme that began at least as early as about April 2014 and went through February 2019, prosecutors said.
On Monday, Roxanne Sazue appeared in court in Pierre before U.S. Judge Roberto Lange, with her attorney, Margo Northrup to plead guilty,
In return for the separate guilty pleas of Grey Owl and Sazue, federal prosecutors agreed to seek a sentence for each at the low end of the possible range for the crime which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised probation.
Both women agreed to cooperate in the investigation and to pay whatever restitution is “determined by the court at the time of sentencing.”
They are slated to be sentenced on Nov. 25 in Pierre.
Meanwhile, the other four — Brandon Sazue, Hawk, Pease and Middletent — have maintained their not guilty pleas and are slated to go to trial in October.
This could change. Each has until Sept. 24 to take a deal — if prosecutors offer one — and plead guilty, according to the current case scheduling.
But in a motion filed Wednesday, Sept. 11, Middletent asked for a third continuance, or postponement, of the trial, until late November this time.
She needs more time to allow her attorney, Wade Fischer of Pierre, to “properly investigate this matter to determine if a plea agreement or a trial will be in (Middletent’s) best interest,” according to the motion Fischer filed.
The court initially set the trial for Sept. 10. After motions by co-defendants, it was continued to Oct. 8.
In Wednesday’s filing, Fischer asked for the trial to be postponed at least 45 days beyond Oct. 8.
Fischer told Judge Moreno that the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Jehangiri, “does not object” to such a postponement.
Such a continuance would also move other pretrial deadlines in the case back, including deadlines for reaching a plea agreement.
Most cases in federal court end up in plea deals.
The effect of the embezzlement scheme has “completely demoralized” people on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation southeast of Pierre bordering the east bank of the Missouri River, one tribal member, who declined to be named, told the Capital Journal this week.
Tribal Chairman Lester Thompson Jr., told the Capital Journal on July 12 when four of the defendants made their initial appearances on the charges, that the tribe likely would be laying off employees because of financial shortfalls due to the embezzlement. He said he hoped the layoffs would be temporary.
Tribal members have told the Capital Journal they expect others are guilty of embezzlement and that more charges could be coming.
In a news release on Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Ron Parsons described how tribal leadership was key to the embezzlement scheme: “During the times relevant to each defendant’s case, Brandon Sazue served as chair of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Hawk served as the elected treasurer of the Tribe, Roxanne Sazue also was (tribal) chair and Middletent and Grey Owl were elected (tribal) councilpersons.”
Grey Owl also was elected to the tribal council for a term.
When the six were not in their tribal leadership positions, they each — except for Brandon Sazue — “worked for Hawk in the tribe’s finance office,” Parsons said.
Hawk faces more serious criminal charges here and in Nevada.
He remains in federal custody in the Hughes County Jail because court officials want to hold him in light of a warrant issued for him out of Nevada where he was charged earlier this year with sexually assaulting a girl under the age of 16.
His attorney, Clint Sargent of Sioux Falls, this spring told the Capital Journal the alleged victim in Nevada was older than 16 last year when he is accused of assaulting the girl.
In April, Hawk was charged in federal court in Pierre with sexually assaulting the sister of his alleged victim in the Nevada case. The charges allege he assaulted the young woman in the tribal finance offices.
After he was charged with sexual assault in April, Hawk was put on leave from his treasurer job, Tribal Chair Thompson told the Capital Journal.
Hawk’s five co-defendants remain free under certain conditions pending trial or other ending of each case.