- By Jenna Kunze
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 ThisNative News Weekly (January 16, 2022): D.C. Briefs
Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes to Host Annual "Would Jesus Eat Frybread?" Conference
Navajo Nation President Addresses Arizona State Legislature on Issues Facing Navajo People
Hundreds Gather for Clyde Bellecourt’s Funeral Services in Minneapolis
Triple Homicide on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
The truth about Indian Boarding Schools
This month, we’re asking our readers to help us raise $10,000 to fund our year-long journalism initiative called “The Indian Boarding School Project: A Dark Chapter in History.” Our mission is to shine a light on the dark era of forced assimilation of native American children by the U.S. government and churches. You’ll be able to read stories each week and join us for Livestream events to understand what the Indian Boarding School era has meant to Native Americans — and what it still means today.
This news will be provided free for everyone to read, but it is not free to produce. That’s why we’re asking you to make a donation this month to help support our efforts. Any contribution of any amount — big or small — gives us a better, stronger future and allows us to remain a force for change. Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you.