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Former chair of Montana Native Women’s Coalition sentenced for theft and fraud

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Posted at 11:09 AM, Oct 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-27 12:18:29-04

GREAT FALLS — Meredith McConnell of Lame Deer, the former chairwoman of the Montana Native Women’s Coalition, was sentenced in federal court in Billings on Monday, October 25, after being convicted of stealing federal grant funds for unapproved travel to Las Vegas, Nevada, and other unauthorized expenses.

Acting U.S. Attorney Leif Johnson said in a news release that McConnell, 52 years old, 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.

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.

Prosecutors requested a sentence within the guideline range of 12 months to 18 months in prison.

U.S. District Judge Susan Watters presided and sentenced McConnell to four years of probation and ordered $29,114 restitution jointly and severally with co-defendant Sheryl Lynn Lawrence.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ryan Weldon and Bryan Dake prosecuted the case, which was investigated by Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General.