Ex-Blackfeet chair pleads guilty to Head Start fraud

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The former chairman of the Blackfeet Tribe on Wednesday admitted his role in an overtime pay scheme in which persons who worked in the tribe’s Head Start program, including his wife, defrauded the child assistance program of $174,000.

According to U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme, Willie Sharp, 66, of Browning, pleaded guilty to wire fraud. Sharp faces a maximum 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.

The prosecution said in court records that Sharp authorized and approved overtime at the Blackfeet Head Start Program knowing that the overtime claims were false.

The falsely claimed overtime pay totaled $174,000 in federal funds for more than 5,800 hours claimed over a 15-month period. Sharp’s wife, Denise Sharp, and four other co-defendants have been convicted and sentenced in the case.

When the fraud was uncovered, two different firms audited the Blackfeet Head Start program. Both audits questioned the overtime claims, identifying them as “beyond necessary and reasonable” and lacking any supporting documentation.

The Blackfeet Tribe did its own internal review, agreed it could not justify the overtime claims and repaid the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services $250,620 for disallowed costs and other expenses.

The investigation has resulted in the indictment and conviction of Denise Sharp, Theresa Calf Boss Ribs, Patrick Calf Boss Ribs, Carol Bird and Allen Shane Gross.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Weldon is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General.

U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris presided. Judge Morris set sentencing for March 3, 2020, and continued Sharp’s release.

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