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Billings Man Admits To Check Scheme

A Billings man admitted last week to defrauding the Crow Tribe by using stolen checks from the tribe’s payroll count to get cash – more than $2,000.

Jonathan Cleve Brien, 43, pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court in Billings to two counts of wire fraud and faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. Brien received checks from the Crow Tribe payroll account in May 2019 and then forged the payees on the checks and had those people cash the checks at Walmart and Western Security Bank, according to the indictment.

The two largest checks for about $900 were cashed at Western Security Bank and the other seven checks were cashed at Walmart ranging from $300 to $800. He later told authorities he kept the amounts below $1,000 hoping it would go under the radar.

A cooperator with the federal government in the case said Brien brought him signed Crow Tribe payroll checks made out to them for about $900 on two occasions. The cooperator said they then deposited the checks into a personal bank account and withdrew the money as cash to split with Brien.

Brien initially denied knowing about the checks when authorities interviewed him, but eventually admitted to the scheme saying he made the checks out to people who also did methamphetamine.

He told the feds he made the checks out for about $900 because he thought tribe’s payroll account would have at least that much in it and hoped it would be less suspicious if he kept the amount under $1,000.

Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 1.

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