Woman acknowledges theft from tribal loan program

Billings, Montana (AP) August 2010

The last of six people charged in a scheme in which more than $1 million was stolen from a Fort Peck tribal loan program has pleaded guilty.

Connie J. Smith of Poplar appeared in federal court during August and pleaded guilty to theft from a tribal organization and conspiracy to obstruct a federal audit. Two other counts will be dismissed at the 51-year-old’s Oct. 21 sentencing as part of a plea agreement, in which she must pay $152,963 in restitution.

Smith, who worked for a decade in the tribe’s credit department before she was fired in July 2009, was among six former tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs employees indicted earlier this year.

The defendants were accused of embezzling money from the program and trying to hide the thefts by altering computer information and replacing their names on loans with those of deceased tribal members. The scheme ran for about 10 years until May 2009.

Smith was accused of receiving 85 checks totaling $69,735 between 2002 and 2009. Most of them were tallied as short-term loans while some were recorded as miscellaneous expenses.