The last of six defendants accused of embezzling federal money from a tribal water project that would serve 30,000 people across north-central Montana has been arraigned in federal court.
James Howard Eastlick of Laurel, 69, pleaded not guilty in federal court in Great Falls to 17 felony charges including theft of federal money and money laundering.
Five others charged in the case, including Chippewa Cree Business Committee member and former tribal council chair John “Chance” Houle, 47, and 41-year-old former state Rep. Tony Belcourt, D-Box Elder, the CEO of the tribally owned Chippewa Cree Construction Corp. and a former tribal council member, previously pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The other defendants are Hailey Lee Belcourt, 35, of Box Elder and Mark T. Leischner, 46, and Tammy Kay Leischner, 42, both of Laurel. Tammy Leischner is listed in the indictment as Eastlick’s daughter.
Pretrial conferences with Chief U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen have been scheduled for all defendants, with Eastlick’s scheduled for May 29 and May 22 for the other defendants.
All defendants have been released on special conditions.
The indictment alleges the defendants used a complex scheme of shell companies and unknowing out-of-state businesses to shift and launder federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the stimulus bill of 2009 — allocated to the Rocky Boy’s/North Central Montana Regional Water System.
Chippewa Cree Construction Corp. is the primary contractor on the project.
Once completed, the project would provide treated water to the residents of Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation and from Loma to northern Hill County and from Dutton through Sweetgrass on the western edge, including Havre and other towns and rural water systems in Hill, Chouteau, Liberty, Pondera, Teton, Glacier and Toole counties.
The indictment says if Tony and Hailey Belcourt are convicted, they shall forfeit to the federal government at least $311,000, a house in Box Elder the indictment alleges Hailey Belcourt purchased using embezzled funds, and the Billings pipe company MT Waterworks, which the indictment alleges was formed to use in the embezzlement scheme. Tony Belcourt owns a controlling interest in MT Waterworks, the indictment says.