Two plead guilty to theft from Fort Peck tribal loan program

Great Falls, Montana (AP) July 2010

Two former Bureau of Indian Affairs employees have pleaded guilty to their roles in the theft of $1 million from a tribal credit program.

One other person has already pleaded guilty and the other three defendants have reached plea agreements, according to court records.

Shelly D. Pipe, 44, a BIA loan specialist from Wolf Point and Paul J. Bemer, 41, of Poplar, a BIA loan assistant, each pleaded guilty July 15 to conspiracy to steal from a tribal organization, conspiracy to obstruct a federal audit and receiving compensation as a federal employee from a source other than the federal government.

U.S. Magistrate Keith Strong set Oct. 21 sentencing dates for both.

Prosecutors say Pipe received short-term loan checks totaling $24,311 while her husband and daughter received checks totaling $41,164 from the Credit Program. A plea agreement calls for Pipe to repay the money.

Prosecutors say Bemer received $49,733 from the Credit Program and owed nearly $32,000 on a long-term loan when he stopped making payments in 2007. His mother also received nearly $9,000. Bemer's restitution is set at nearly $90,500.

Outstanding short-term loans with the Fort Peck tribal credit program totaled $1.6 million in June 2009, with about half that amount going to credit program employees and their families, according to court records.

An indictment alleged the defendants embezzled money from the credit program and then tried to hide the thefts by altering computer information and replacing their names on loans with those of deceased tribal members. The scheme ran from August 1999 until May 2009.

Co-defendant Dolly D. Crowe, 45, of Poplar, pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy and theft counts. She was held accountable for $167,000 in losses.

Court records say the three other defendants, all from Poplar, have also reached plea agreements. They are Evadna M. Running Bear, 69; Connie J. Smith, 51; and Angelita M. Headdress, 27.