Ten people in two separate cases have recently been charged with theft and/or fraud involving Recovery Act funds. In both cases, federal and state officials collaborated in investigating alleged misuse and abuse of taxpayer dollars, resulting in indictments filed in a U.S. District Court in Montana and a county court in Illinois.
Great Falls, Montana
Six people, including a former state representative, allegedly conspired to embezzle more than $300,000 from a $33 million Recovery award to the Chippewa Cree Tribe. The award was to fund construction of a freshwater pipeline for the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation in the north-central part of the state. According to the indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana/Great Falls Division, the defendants created a shell company into which they diverted approximately $311,000 in Recovery funds “for personal use and enrichment.”
Defendants include Tony James Belcourt, a former state representative; his wife Hailey Lee Balcourt; John Chance Houle, a Chippewa Cree Tribe council member; Tammy Kay Leischner, a consultant; her husband Mark Leischner and her father James Eastlick. All are charged with theft and money laundering and could each be facing up to $250,000 in fines and 20 years of imprisonment in addition to repayment of the stolen funds.
An Illinois state attorney brought charges in April against the secretary of the mayor of Centreville, near East St. Louis, naming her as the fourth person to be charged with bribery and fraud involving Recovery funds intended for helping poor people. Defendant Patricia Hicks was accused in St. Clair County Court of misusing funds from the “Put Illinois to Work” program, which was funded by the Department of Health and Human Service’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families emergency fund created by the Recovery Act.
Three other people – Tiffany Jefferies, Willie Cox, and Danyelle Radford – were charged in March in the same case. Neither the amount of Recovery funds involved nor any further details of the case have yet been disclosed.
Indictments are merely formal charges that a defendant has committed a violation of the federal criminal laws. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.
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