Letter from Tribal Council

Dear Tribal Members:
As you may have heard, the former Director of the Tribe’s Domestic Violence Department agreed to plead guilty to two counts of theft or embezzlement from an Indian tribal organization under 18 U.S.C. § 1163 in the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska. The charges were the result of a plea agreement the former Director reached with the U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Nebraska.

On December 16, 2022, the former Director was sentenced in a hearing before the federal District Court. The sentence imposed was four (4) years of probation, 194 hours of community service as approved and directed by the probation office, payment of $19,431.57 in
restitution, payment of $10,000 in fines, and various other conditions. The Tribe has received information that the former Director has paid the restitution and it should be received by the Tribe shortly.

The incidents leading to the prosecution were initially discovered by Tribal staff and reported to federal law enforcement authorities. During the entire process, Tribal staff worked diligently to assist the United States Department of Justice with the investigation, actually reviewing files and providing the information necessary for the charges to be brought. Staff kept the Tribal Council apprised of the progress and provided Council with any information which was made available to the Tribe. Once the investigation was complete, the Department of Justice turned the matter over to the U.S. Attorney in Nebraska for action.

As the matter progressed, the Tribe attempted to obtain as much information as possible from the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney. Unfortunately, the U.S. Attorney’s office never contacted or communicated with the Tribe. When the Tribe heard that
a plea agreement had been made, it requested information on the details, but the Department of Justice informed the Tribe that the U.S. Attorney would not provide the Tribe with information until the plea agreement was approved by the judge. The only information the
United States was willing to provide to the Tribe, and only after specific request, was a condition of the plea agreement stating the former Director “shall not be allowed to work, volunteer, or in any way participate in programs related to administration of tribal funds or
benefits or any tribal social service-related programs.” The Tribe did not see any other terms of the plea agreement or charges until they were approved by the judge and filed with the District Court, at which point the Tribe’s legal counsel obtained the filings from court records.

When the Tribal Council saw in the news that the former Director pleaded guilty and the plea agreement was apparently approved, it promptly had a victim statement prepared to be provided to the judge for consideration with sentencing. The statement discussed the impacts of the acts of the former Director on the Domestic Violence Department, survivors, employees, the Tribe, and the community at large, informing the judge that the matter was not merely about money or the funds misappropriated.

While requesting information on submitting the victim statement, the Tribe finally received communication from a Victim Assistance Specialist in the U.S. Attorney’s office – the first communication from the U.S. Attorney’s office throughout the entire matter. The Tribe
provided the victim statement to the Victim Assistance Specialist for the judge. The Victim Assistance Specialist has stated to the Tribe that the victim statement was provided to the judge and that the judge did review the statement for sentencing.

The Tribe has also taken actions to help prevent events like this in the future. While it is impossible to entirely prevent theft and embezzlement in any organization or government, the Tribe has added controls to help prevent and catch any such incidents in the future. For example, the Tribe has implemented a process of quarterly reviews of Domestic Violence Department expenditures by the Compliance Officer of Ponca Health Services, providing a check from an official in a separate Tribal agency. Domestic Violence Department staff also receive more extensive supervision, including individual meetings to review policies and protocols, helping to ensure compliance, proper documentation, and proper expenditures. Tribal officials are also currently working on a final revised Domestic Violence Department policy for Tribal Council review and approval to ensure it reflects appropriate handling of
expenditures and other matters.

The Tribal Council hopes this information is helpful. If you have any specific questions, you may, of course, contact your Council representative.
Ponca Tribal Council