Mark James Denny Pleads Guilty in U.S. Federal Court
|U.S. Attorney’s Office January 29, 2013|
The United States Attorney’s Office announced that during a federal court session in Billings, on January 29, 2013, before Chief U.S. District Judge Richard F. Cebull, Mark James Denny, a 33-year-old resident of Hardin, pled guilty to theft from an organization receiving federal funding. Sentencing has been set for May 1, 2013. He is currently released on special conditions.
In an offer of proof filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl E. Rostad, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
The Crow Tribal Historic Preservation Office (CTHPO) on the Crow Indian Reservation was created in 2005. The CTHPO is a designated office of the Crow Indian Tribe that provides for direct tribal involvement and leadership in the protection and enhancement of Crow lands and cultural resources. It serves to identify, inventory, and protect culturally, archeologically, and historically important resources both on and off the reservation.
Each year, the CTHPO receives grant funds from the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. A requirement for any enterprise seeking to do work on the reservation that may disturb tribal lands—utilities, construction, energy exploration, development—is that the business employ the services of a CTHPO employee (archeological technician) to monitor the project to insure that lands of cultural or historic importance are not destroyed. The company is then charged for this monitoring service and payments are made to the Crow Tribe.
The director of the CTHPO from approximately 2005 until November 15, 2011 is identified here as X.X. During the time X.X. was director, most of the monitors were his family members. Two other monitors were not hired as Crow Tribe employees but were assigned as project monitors and received payment directly from the companies. Denny was also an employee of the CTHPO.
Sometime in the summer of 2009, X.X. approached the vice-chairman of the tribe and tried to get the process changed so that the companies could make direct payments to the monitors. When he was told he could not do that, he indicated he would take the matter up with the chairman. The chairman was never approached and did not provide any approval for X.X.’s request.
Even though his request was denied, X.X. began advising companies that payments would now be made directly to the tribal monitors assigned to the project. At first, in the summer of 2009, few direct payments were arranged. However, in the summer of 2010, the CTHPO staff person who insured that companies were properly billed and that CTHPO payments went to the tribe left the office, and direct billing—having companies pay monitors personally instead of remitting the fee to the Crow Tribe—became much more prevalent.
From July 2009 to November 2011, a total of over $500,000 in monitoring service payments from the companies doing business on the Crow Reservation were diverted to the personal use and benefit of the employees of the CTHPO and the two non-employees assigned to projects as monitors. X.X. did not serve as a monitor in the field.
In the summer of 2011—from June to August—Denny was assigned as a monitor to the Sarpy Creek project, which was the Westmoreland Resources expansion of the Absaloka Coal Mine in the Powder River Basin. Denny’s assignment was to monitor the progress of the project to insure that no culturally, archeologically, or historically important sites were disturbed.
A Westmoreland sub-contractor, GCM Services, went forward with an extensive excavation of the site with the approval of X.X., who as director of the CTHPO had assigned several others and Denny as project monitors. As a result of the approved site plan, a 2,000-year-old bison kill site was unearthed in 2011 with heavy equipment, causing significant, irreparable damage to the site. The largest bison bone bed was estimated to cover almost 3,000 square meters and contained the remains of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of butchered bison remains and prehistoric spear points dating back to the Late Archaic period.
When interviewed, Denny admitted that he knew that he took direct payments while a tribal employee and that it was wrong to be paid by the tribe and the companies for the same work. He admitted that the time sheets he submitted to the tribe and the invoices he submitted to the companies were false and fraudulent because they were inflated and represented demands for payment for hours not worked. According to a GCM Services company representative, “The monitors often did not show up, and, if they did, they often only worked one to three hours.”
The United States will seek restitution in the amount of $73,046—the amount of loss directly attributable Denny.
“I meet regularly with tribal officials on each of Montana’s reservations, and at each meeting, they ask this office to do more to put an end to corruption and theft in the administration of federal grants and programs. I take—and have taken—their pleas to heart when my office created the Guardians Project with just that mission in mind. The change of plea today represents just one of many, many steps this office will take to respond the concerns of our Indian communities for honesty and integrity in tribal government.” Michael W. Cotter, United States Attorney for the District of Montana.
Denny faces possible penalties of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years’ supervised release.
The investigation was conducted by a team of agents and auditors working with the U.S. Attorney’s Guardians Project, including the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Interior, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service.