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.”

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About The Author
Author: Jenna Kunze
Staff Writer
Jenna Kunze is a reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Kunze’s bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Smithsonian Magazine and Anchorage Daily News. In 2020, she was one of 16 U.S. journalists selected by the Pulitzer Center to report on the effects of climate change in the Alaskan Arctic region. Prior to that, she served as lead reporter at the Chilkat Valley News in Haines, Alaska. Kunze is based in New York.