UPDATE (11/9) – The Associated Press reports that the three former Blackfeet Head Start employees, charged with embezzling almost a quarter million dollars, pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.

Grant, Goss and Bird all three pleaded not guilty Wednesday to theft from a tribal government receiving federal funding and wire fraud.

Prosecutors are seeking restitution of $28,500 from Grant, nearly $17,000 from Goss, and $14,800 from Bird.

The indictment says other defendants will be named later.

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GREAT FALLS – The U.S. Department of Justice issued a release saying three Blackfeet Head Start employees face embezzlement charges and appeared in federal court on Wednesday morning.

Ethyl Lee Grant, Allen Shane Goss and Carol Hall Bird appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Johnston in Great Falls.

The three suspects face charges of Theft from an Indian Tribal Government Receiving Federal Funding and Wire Fraud.

The former employees allegedly embezzled federal funds while working at the Blackfeet Head Start Program.

Charging documents say that during a 15-month period, the Head Start program received $8 million in federal funding. The employees along with others, who have not been named, allegedly claimed over 7,800 hours of overtime resulting in $232,000 paid in federal funds.

The trial is set for Jan 8 before US District Judge Brian Morris, in Great Falls. The case was investigated by the FBI and U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services, Office of Inspector General.

The maximum available penalties for the offenses include up to 30 years in prison, $500,000 in fines, full restitution and forfeiture.

The Head Start program was designed to break the poverty cycle by providing preschool children with programs to help meet their emotional, social, help nutritional and psychological needs. The program has helped over 155 tribal communities nationwide.