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Sisseton board member sent to prison for role in stealing $415,499 in tribal funds

SISSETON, S.D. -- A member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe in South Dakota has been sentenced to 20 months in prison for his part in stealing $415,499 in tribal funds along with other members of a district executive board.

Thomas Adams, 46, admitted to taking $164,477 for his own purposes in an agreement with two other board members to steal the funds.

Adams and the two were accused of taking the money from the Old Agency District, a subdivision of the tribe. The tribe divides the reservation covering a wide area of far northeast South Dakota and a small part of southeast North Dakota into seven districts with their own boards.

Adams and the other board members took the funds from January 2011 to March 2013 by writing checks to themselves for payroll, stipends, assistance, travel and other miscellaneous reasons, said the U.S. Attorney for South Dakota Randy Seiler in the charging documents.

Adams, along with Barbara Kirk and Leslie Barse, were indicted in the case facing charges of conspiracy to embezzle from an Indian tribal organization. Kirk and Barse are yet to have their fate determined.

In addition to prison time, Adams must also pay $151,477 in restitution, Seiler said, and serve three years of supervised probation upon his release.

Floyd Kirk Jr., the current chairman of the Old Agency District, said in an interview Thursday, July 6, that they have changed accounting practices in the district and he said they are “absolutely” trying to prevent a similar incident again.

He said they were “shocked” when the thefts were uncovered.

Kirk took over as chairman in an election about four years ago after the thefts were initially uncovered.

He said they hope to recover the funds through restitution and the district’s insurance.

The case was investigated by the FBI and Seiler’s office as part of The Guardians Project, a new federal law enforcement initiative to expose corruption and theft involving federal program funds in South Dakota’s Indian country communities.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Jehangiri of the Sioux Falls office said the project is ongoing across the state.

Just last month, a Fort Thompson woman, Tally Colombe, 42, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and and federal program fraud in Pierre.

She faces 20 years in prison.

Colombe was executive director of Hunkpati Investments, a Fort Thompson-based economic development financial institution on a central South Dakota reservation. She admitted to using a debit card from the investment group to embezzle funds totaling at least $15,000.. However, the U.S. attorney said the amount could be as high as $90,912.

Jehangiri also said a Pine Ridge Indian Reservation resident, Charles Leo Cummings, will appear in Rapid City federal court Friday, July 7, on an embezzlement charge, which shows the effort is across the entire South Dakota district.

He said this new effort, similar to one started in Montana, is having success in trying to find misuse of federal funds in Indian country.