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Federal jury finds ex-Montana Native Women’s Coalition chairwoman guilty of financial crimes

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Posted at 5:23 PM, Apr 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-05 19:23:43-04

The former chairwoman of the Montana Native Women’s Coalition has been convicted by a federal jury for financial crimes related to misspending of federal grants aimed at addressing violence on reservations.

Meredith McConnell, 51 of Lame Deer, was found guilty Friday of theft from a program receiving federal funding, wire fraud and false claims as charged in a superseding indictment, Acting U.S. Attorney Leif Johnson said Monday.

The five-day jury trial began on March 29. McConnell faces a maximum 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.

In court documents and in evidence presented at trial, the government alleged that beginning about August 2017, McConnell, along with others, misappropriated federal grant funds to hand out 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 for the misappropriation of more than 10 percent of grant funds designed to help address violence on Indian reservations in Montana.

The government further alleged the thefts occurred four months after board officials, including McConnell, participated in training about conflicts of interest, whistleblower policies, ethics and financial oversight. The training came after the Coalition’s previous executive director pleaded guilty to fraud in March 2017 for stealing 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 Sept. 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, both pleaded guilty to theft of federal funds and are pending sentencing.