5 indicted for selling alcohol on dry reservation

A federal grand jury has indicted five people for possessing and selling liquor on a dry American Indian reservation home to a tribe suing some of the nation's largest beer makers, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced.

Marnie Water, Darrell Spotted Elk Sr., Florine Chipps, Merle Leighton Sr., and Julia Marie Lamont were indicted Feb. 22 on counts of possessing and dispensing liquor, said Brendan Johnson, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota, in a news release. All five pleaded not guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Veronica L. Duffy two days later. Separate trials have been scheduled for May 1. Each faces a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe has sued several beer makers, including Anheuser-Busch InBev Worldwide and MillerCoors LLC, saying they are knowingly contributing to alcohol-related problems on the Pine Ridge reservation.

The lawsuit, filed last month in the U.S. District Court of Nebraska, seeks $500 million in damages for the cost of health care, social services and child rehabilitation caused by chronic alcoholism on the reservation, located in some of the poorest counties in the country.

The lawsuit also targets four beer stores in Whiteclay, Neb., a town near the reservation's border. Whiteclay has only about a dozen residents but sold nearly 5 million cans of beer in 2010, according to the federal lawsuit.  

Mark Salter, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said he was unsure if the five indictments are related.

Court records show the indictments are from incidents that took place in December in Wanblee, Porcupine and the village of Pine Ridge.

The indictments were the result of a joint operation between the Oglala Sioux Tribe's police department and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Office of Justice Services, Salter said. The operation targeted “bootlegging” on the reservation.

Phone listings for the five individuals were either unavailable, not working or rang unanswered.

Alcoholism is a rampant problem on the reservation. Oglala Sioux Vice President Tom Poor Bear was arrested Feb. 19 on a charge of obstructing government function in an alcohol-related incident. The police report from the Oglala Sioux police department listed Poor Bear's blood-alcohol content as .306, nearly quadruple the legal limit for driving a car.

Poor Bear denied he was drinking and said he anticipates the charge being dropped at a preliminary hearing next week.

By Kristi Eaton
Sioux Falls, South Dakota (AP) March 2012