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Blackfeet Reservation

A sign welcomes visitors to the Blackfeet reservation in Browning.

A former chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council has been indicted for stealing nearly a quarter of a million dollars in federal funds.

Federal prosecutors allege that Willie Andrew Sharp embezzled $232,000 from $7 million that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded the Blackfeet to run their Head Start program from 2012 through 2014.

Sharp chaired the governing Tribal Business Council at the time, while his wife Denise served as personnel manager for the Head Start program.

The eight-page indictment claims that Sharp “authorized, approved, and ensured others authorized and approved overtime at the Blackfeet Head Start Program, all while knowing such overtime to be materially false and fraudulent, in whole and in part.

“All total, individuals at Blackfeet Head Start, including Denise L. Sharp … claimed more than 7,800 hours in overtime and received over $232,000.00 in federal funds from the Head Start Program in a 15-month timeframe.”

Sharp faces one count each of theft from an Indian tribal government receiving federal funding, and wire fraud. He could face a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment, three years’ supervised release and a fine up to $250,000 if convicted on the first count, and 20 years’ imprisonment, three years' supervised release and a $250,000 fine if convicted on the second. He is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Great Falls on Feb. 5.

Sharp is the most recent of several tribal employees to face charges in connection with the alleged scheme. Last month, Denise Sharp pleaded guilty to her role, and is scheduled to be sentenced in March.

Also last month, former Early Head Start manager Theresa Marie Calf Boss Ribs and former payroll clerk Patrick Calf Boss Ribs both pleaded guilty to theft from an Indian government receiving federal funding and wire fraud, and agreed to pay tens of thousands of dollars in restitution under their plea agreements.

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Carol Hall Bird and Allen Shane Goss were also both found guilty of wire fraud last year. The program’s acting director, Ethyl Lee Grant, also faced charges but died during her trial.

The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council chairman’s office did not reply to a request for comment on this article. But as the Flathead Beacon reported in 2015, tribal leadership has previously acknowledged that the years 2012-2014 were a time of deep division and dysfunction for the Blackfeet, whose government was split into two opposing factions, one led by Sharp and one led by then-council secretary Roger Running Crane.

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.

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