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Former Blackfeet Operations Manager pleads not guilty in tribal theft case

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Former Blackfeet Operations Manager pleads not guilty in tribal theft case

Nov 28, 2023 | 7:32 pm ET
By Nicole Girten
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Former Blackfeet Operations Manager pleads not guilty in tribal theft case
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A sign reads "Blackfeet Nation" on the Blackfeet Reservation. (Photo by Nicole Girten/Daily Montanan)

A former operations manager for the Blackfeet Tribe pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges accusing him of stealing thousands in COVID-19 relief funds from the tribe.

James McNeely, 43, of Browning, was charged with theft from an Indian tribal government receiving federal funding, wire fraud and theft from an Indian tribal organization in October.

McNeely could face a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release, according to the Montana U.S. Attorney’s Office.

It appears the tribe let McNeely go from his position as operations manager since the charges were filed. Neither McNeely, nor the tribe, could be immediately reached for comment in time for publication.

The U.S. government alleges McNeely fraudulently submitted requests for repayment to the Blackfeet Tribe and received payments “after falsely claiming to purchase COVID-19 supplies on behalf of the Tribe from Amazon,” when he did not purchase said supplies, according to charging documents.

McNeely allegedly submitted photos of his Amazon shopping cart and quotes from local businesses to make the claims look legitimate to review from the Blackfeet Tribe, according to the original filing.

Checks sent between February and September of 2022 from Montana to Denver and other locations and into a checking account added up to more than $78,400, according to the indictment; 10 checks were sent, each ranging from $7,100 to $8,400.