fbpx
facebook app symbol  twitter  linkedin  instagram 1
 

BILLINGS, Mont. — On Friday, a former board member of Montana Native Women’s Coalition was convicted by a federal jury of crimes related to unapproved spending of federal grant funds.

In a five day trial, the jury found Meredith McConnell, 51, of Lame Deer guilty on counts of theft from a program receiving federal funding, wire fraud and false claims as charged in a superseding indictment, according to the District Attorney’s Office in Montana. She faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release, though her sentencing is pending.

The Montana Native Women’s Coalition administers state and federal funding for domestic violence and programming for Native women. The Coalition receives funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), which provides grants for victim services.

McConnell was one of three defendants in the case, including the group’s former executive director, Sheryl Lynn Lawrence of Colstrip, and board member Barbara Mary Daychief of Browning. Both pleaded guilty to theft of federal funds and are awaiting sentencing.

According to court documents and in evidence presented at trial, the government alleged that the three women misappropriated federal grant funds to hand out 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. 

Prosecutors alleged that during a four-month period, McConnell was responsible for the misappropriation of more than 10 percent of grant funds designed to help address violence on American Indian reservations in Montana, the press release from the Department of Justice said.

Acting U.S. Attorney Leif Johnson said in a statement that, instead of using grant money to help Native American victims of domestic and sexual violence, McConnell stole those grant funds for her own benefit, including to pay for lavish travel and gifts.

“Despite receiving training on financial oversight, conflicts of interest and ethics, Meredith McConnell stole grant funds intended to help Native American victims of violence and used the money for unauthorized travel and her own benefit,” Johnson said. “Our office will hold accountable and prosecute those who misuse grant funds.”

More Stories Like This

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to Host Hearing on Public Safety in Indian Country
Native Bidaské with Kevin Sharp on Leonard Peltier’s Upcoming Parole Hearing
Senate Subcommittee to Hear Testimony on President Biden’s FY Budget for Indian Programs on Thursday
Native News Weekly (May 19, 2024): D.C. Briefs
Native Artist and Former Cultural Advisor to the Chicago Blackhawks Sues Team for Sexual Harassment, Fraud

These stories must be heard.

This May, we are highlighting our coverage of Indian boarding schools and their generational impact on Native families and Native communities. Giving survivors of boarding schools and their descendants the opportunity to share their stories is an important step toward healing — not just because they are speaking, but because they are being heard. Their stories must be heard. Help our efforts to make sure Native stories and Native voices are heard in 2024. Please consider a recurring donation to help fund our ongoing coverage of Indian boarding schools. Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous-centered journalism. Thank you.

About The Author
Jenna Kunze
Author: Jenna KunzeEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Senior Reporter
Jenna Kunze is a staff reporter covering Indian health, the environment and breaking news for Native News Online. She is also the lead reporter on stories related to Indian boarding schools and repatriation. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Tribal Business News, Smithsonian Magazine, Elle and Anchorage Daily News. Kunze is based in New York.