A former Fort Peck tribal police officer has been accused by federal prosecutors of embezzling $40,000 intended for a youth diversion program and instead spending the money at casinos, restaurants, bars and a strip club.
Willard Wilson White, 44, was charged last month in U.S. District Court in Great Falls with one count each of wire fraud, theft from an Indian tribal organization and income tax evasion. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
While working as a temporary police officer for the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, White proposed a program “to aid in the reduction of youths adjudicated by the tribal court,” federal prosecutors allege in charging documents. The tribes provided him with $40,000 to implement the program.
Instead, he “provided little to no services and instead spent the tribal funds at casinos, restaurants, bars, a strip club, furniture stores and other expenditures wholly unrelated to the Youth Diversion Program,” the indictment states.
Prosecutors believe the money was spent between July and October 2015. White was also charged with evading federal income taxes after he allegedly claimed no taxable income in 2015.
If convicted of all three charges, White faces up to 30 years in prison and $600,000 in fines. He would also be required to pay back the $40,000.
The tribal government on the Fort Peck Reservation has recently come under scrutiny by federal agencies for reportedly failing to account for more than a million dollars in federal grant money and for letting years pass without conducting proper background checks on police officers. It’s unclear whether White had a criminal history prior to being charged in the embezzlement case.
Going into 2016 the U.S. Department of Justice designated the tribes “high risk" after they failed to repay $1.6 million in disallowed expenditures from police grants.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs followed suit in 2017, citing multiple instances in which the tribes ignored warnings to the tribes that some police and jail officers hadn’t been properly vetted.
Earlier this year, another former Fort Peck police officer was sentenced to federal prison after he allegedly used a crowbar to break into the drug investigations office and stole opioids, meth and cash.