BILLINGS, Mont. — The former chairwoman of the Montana Native Women’s Coalition was sentenced Friday for stealing federal grant funds for unapproved travel to Las Vegas and other unauthorized expenses, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Meredith McConnell, 52, of Lame Deer, was found guilty on April 2 at trial by a federal jury on all counts, including theft from a program receiving federal funding, wire fraud and false claims.
Meredith McConnell, 52, of Lame Deer, was found guilty on April 2 at trial by a federal jury on all counts in a superseding indictment, including theft from a program receiving federal funding, wire fraud and false claims.
McConnell faced a possible sentence of 20 years in prison for wire fraud. The government requested a sentence within the guideline range of 12 months to 18 months in prison, and the court sentenced McConnell to four years of probation and ordered $29,114 restitution jointly and severally with co-defendant Sheryl Lynn Lawrence.
U.S. District Judge Susan P. Watters presided.
“As chairwoman of the Montana Native Women’s Coalition, McConnell was entrusted with the responsibility of using federal money to help domestic violence victims on Montana’s Indian reservations,” the release stated. “McConnell even received training on how not to commit fraud. Yet, she committed fraud anyway and used the money for her own benefit. Those who misuse grant funds will be held accountable and prosecuted.”
“McConnell stole grant funds that were meant to help Native American victims of domestic and sexual violence,” said Douglas B. Bruce, Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General’s Denver Field Office. “Today’s sentencing shows that those who steal federal grant funds will be brought to justice.”
Beginning in about August 2017, McConnell, along with others, misappropriated federal grant funds to give cash payments to others to buy purses and earrings as door prizes, to meet in Las Vegas — a trip that cost $31,744 — and to receive double payments for meals.
During a four-month period, McConnell was responsible for the misappropriation of more than 10% of grant funds designed to help victims of domestic violence on Montana’s Indian reservations.
The thefts occurred four months after McConnell and other board officials participated in training about conflicts of interest, whistleblower policies, ethics and financial oversight. The training came after the coalition’s previous executive director, Toni Plummer, was convicted of fraud in March 2017 for stealing approximately $246,000 from the organization.
The coalition is a Lame Deer-based organization that helps Native American victims of domestic and sexual violence. The coalition receives funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), which provides grants for victim services. OVW awarded the Coalition $318,008 from October 1, 2017, to September 30, 2018.
Co-defendants Sheryl Lynn Lawrence, of Colstrip, who was the coalition’s executive director, and Barbara Mary Daychief, of Browning, who was a coalition board member, each pleaded guilty to theft of federal funds. Lawrence was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay $35,127 restitution jointly and severally with McConnell. Daychief was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to be solely liable for $2,973 restitution.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ryan G. Weldon and Bryan T. Dake prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General.
(Editor’s note) This article originally appeared on Great Falls Tribune: Ex-chair of Montana Native Women’s Coalition sentenced for stealing federal grant funds