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Montana Native Women’s Coalition Board Executive Director Charged In Theft Of Grant Funding

The executive director of the Montana Native Women’s Coalition, along with two board officials, were charged in a scheme to steal federal grant money to make unapproved trips to Las Vegas, Nev., and to receive other unauthorized benefits, U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said.

Appearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Cavan and pleading not guilty to a superseding indictment was Sheryl Lynn Lawrence, 43, of Colstrip; Meredith Mc-Connell, 50, of Busby; and Barbara Mary Daychief, 43, of Browning. All defendants were released pending further proceedings.

Lawrence, who was the executive director of the coalition, was charged as a new co-defendant in the superseding indictment. Lawrence is charged with four counts, including theft from a program receiving federal funding, wire fraud, false claims act and misprision of a felony.

McConnell, who was the coalition’s chairwoman and executive director for Healing Hearts, and Daychief, who was the coalition’s treasurer and a board member, were charged in the initial indictment.

McConnell is charged with four counts, including theft from a program receiving federal funding, wire fraud, false claims act and misprision of a felony.

Daychief is charged with six counts, including theft from a program receiving federal funding, wire fraud, three counts of false claim act and misprision of a felony.

If convicted of the most serious crime, the defendants face a maximum 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.

The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The indictment accuses the three defendants of stealing from the Lame Deer-based coalition from about August 2017 until March 2018. The coalition’s purpose is to help Native American victims of domestic and sexual violence. In addition, the coalition brings together Native American leaders and state representatives who administer state and federal funds for domestic violence and programming to improve resources for Native women and tribal programs.

The coalition receives funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, which provides grants for victim services. From October 2017 to September 2018, the OVAW awarded the coalition $318,008 in federal funds.

In March 2017, the coalition’s previous executive director, Toni Louise Plummer-Alvernaz, pleaded guilty to fraud for stealing from the coalition. Plummer-Alvernaz was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison and ordered to pay $246,024 restitution.

Two months later, the First Nations Development Institute held a two-day training in Billings, where it taught board members, including McConnell and Daychief, about conflicts of interest, whistleblower policies, code of ethics and financial oversight. The coalition also received a special condition about reporting fraud in its September 2017 award package.

The indictment alleges Lawrence, McConnell and Daychief committed travel fraud, received travel payments on non-approved trips, including to Las Vegas, received and authorized double- payment for “days in service,” authorized unapproved construction projects and took other benefits they were not entitled to receive.

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