BILLINGS — The former chairwoman of the Montana Native Women’s Coalition was sentenced today for conviction at trial of stealing federal grant funds for unapproved travel to Las Vegas, Nevada, and other unauthorized expenses, Acting U.S. Attorney Leif M. Johnson said.
Meredith McConnell, 52, of Lame Deer, was found guilty on April 2 at trial by a federal jury on all counts in a superseding indictment, including theft from a program receiving federal funding, wire fraud and false claims.
McConnell faced a possible sentence of 20 years in prison for wire fraud. The government requested a sentence within the guideline range of 12 months to 18 months in prison, and the court sentenced McConnell to four years of probation and ordered $29,114 restitution jointly and severally with co-defendant Sheryl Lynn Lawrence.
U.S. District Judge Susan P. Watters presided.
“As chairwoman of the Montana Native Women’s Coalition, McConnell was entrusted with the responsibility of using federal money to help domestic violence victims on Montana’s Indian reservations. McConnell even received training on how not to commit fraud. Yet, she committed fraud anyway and used the money for her own benefit. Those who misuse grant funds will be held accountable and prosecuted. I want to thank Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ryan G. Weldon and Bryan T. Dake and the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General for investigating and prosecuting this case.”
“McConnell stole grant funds that were meant to help Native American victims of domestic and sexual violence. Today’s sentencing shows that those who steal federal grant funds will be brought to justice,” said Douglas B. Bruce, Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General Denver Field Office.
In court documents and in evidence presented at trial, the government alleged that beginning in about August 2017, McConnell, along with others, misappropriated federal grant funds to give cash payments to others, to buy purses and earrings as door prizes, to meet in Las Vegas, a trip that cost $31,744, and to receive double payments for meals. Prosecutors alleged that during a four-month period, McConnell was responsible in the misappropriation of more than 10 percent of grant funds designed to help victims of domestic violence Montana’s Indian reservations.
The thefts occurred four months after McConnell and other board officials participated in training about conflicts of interest, whistleblower policies, ethics and financial oversight. The training came after the Coalition’s previous executive director, Toni Plummer, was convicted of fraud in March 2017 for stealing approximately $246,000 from the organization.
The Coalition is a Lame Deer-based organization that helps Native American victims of domestic and sexual violence. The Coalition receives funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), which provides grants for victim services. OVW awarded the Coalition $318,008 from October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018.
Co-defendants Sheryl Lynn Lawrence, of Colstrip, who was the Coalition’s executive director, and Barbara Mary Daychief, of Browning, who was a Coalition board member, each pleaded guilty to theft of federal funds. Lawrence was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay $35,127 restitution jointly and severally with McConnell. Daychief was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to be solely liable for $2,973 restitution.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ryan G. Weldon and Bryan T. Dake prosecuted the case, which was investigated by Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General.
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