Havre Psychologist Pleads Guilty to Bribery and Tax Fraud
The United States Attorney’s Office announced that Dr. James Howard Eastlick, Jr., the former clinical psychologist at the Rocky Boy Health Clinic, entered pleas today in three of four indictments handed down by the grand jury charging him with public corruption and tax fraud. Eastlick appeared before U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Great Falls to enter the guilty pleas.
Bribery of Tony Belcourt
Eastlick pled guilty to bribery in giving $100,000 to Tony Belcourt in November 2009 from a company in which he controlled a 49 percent interest, Hunter Burns Construction. The payment was characterized as a “loan” but was not paid back until 2013 when Belcourt and Eastlick became the subjects of a federal corruption investigation. Belcourt had awarded Hunter Burns Construction several construction contracts from federal funds provided to the Chippewa Cree Tribe and its corporation, the Chippewa Cree Construction Corporation, of which Belcourt was the chief executive officer and contracting officer. Belcourt had sold cattle out of trust, meaning without the knowledge and consent of the Independence Bank, who held a lien against the cattle to collateralize the loans made to Belcourt and his wife. When the bank discovered the conversion, it demanded payment of $107,000 from the auction company who had sold the cattle on Belcourt’s behalf, and the auction company, in turn, demanded payment from the Belcourts.
Tony Belcourt approved and authorized a Chippewa Cree Construction Corporation payment to Hunter Burns Construction on November 21, 2009, in the amount of $148,972. Two days later, on November 23, 2009, Hunter Burns Construction issued a $100,000 check to Hailey Belcourt. Hunter Burns Construction did not have the funds to make the payment to Belcourt until the federal construction funds were deposited from the Chippewa Cree Construction Corporation. The company recorded the payment as a personal loan to Hailey Belcourt, who then used the money to re-pay the livestock auction company by wire transfer of $107,153.09 on November 27, 2009. Four months later, in March 2010, Hunter Burns Construction received a $1.7 million contract from Belcourt.
Bribery of Tribal Councilman A
Eastlick also pled guilty to bribery in United States v. Eastlick, CR-14-33-GF-BMM, which alleged that between July 28, 2009 and November 30, 2011, Eastlick and Hunter Burns Construction made $258,000 in bribe payments to a tribal councilman of the Chippewa Cree Tribal Business Committee identified in the indictment only as Tribal Councilman A. The government told the court that Tribal Councilman A served on the board of directors for the Chippewa Cree Construction Corporation and the Rocky Boy’s Health Care Board.
Prosecutors told the court in an offer of proof that the investigation revealed that many of the transactions were not legitimate. For example, equipment purportedly sold to Hunter Burns Construction would continue to appear on Tribal Councilman A’s inventory of equipment for bank loans and credit long after it was allegedly sold. One transaction was for the potential and prospective lease of property over ten years-paid in full up front-when the land was never used for any purpose by the construction company. Another payment was related to the disposal of hazardous waste which could not have been a legitimate transaction due to the regulatory requirements for the disposal of such material that Tribal Councilman A could not legally perform. Eastlick admitted that the payments were to maintain the favor of Tribal Councilman A and to keep federal contracts flowing to Hunter Burns Construction.
Additional details can be found in the government’s offer of proof filed with the court with that cause number and accessible through PACER.
Filing False Tax Returns
In United States v. Eastlick, CR-14-32-GF-BMM, Eastlick pled guilty to one count of a four count indictment charging him with filing a false tax return. During the years covered by the indictment (2008-2011), Eastlick was a clinical psychologist for the Rocky Boy Health Clinic on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation. During this same period, Eastlick operated a loan program called the JE Loan Program with the Chippewa Cree Tribe, wherein he loaned money both to the tribe in large amounts and as a “pay-day” lender to individual tribal employees in smaller amounts. The loans Eastlick made for the tribe generally included interest rates of 10 percent and were paid back within 10 weeks of Eastlick loaning the money. The annualized percentage rate (APR) for loans from the JE Loan program would constitute a 70 to 80 percent return. Short-term loans to individual tribal members also came with high annualized rates of interest.
In its offer of proof, the U.S. Attorney’s Office indicated that it would prove that a significant amount of interest was never declared by Eastlick on his federal income tax returns. The government alleges that Eastlick underpaid his taxes by over $66,000 during the four-year period of the indictment.
Additional details can be found in the government’s offer of proof filed with the court and accessible through PACER.
Eastlick’s sentencing on the three felonies is set for August 15, 2014, in Great Falls.
The case was brought by the federal agents of the Guardians Project and was investigated by the Inspectors General of the Departments of Interior and Health and Human Services and for the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as by the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Division and the FBI.