- By Jenna Kunze
The former executive director of Montana Native Women’s Coalition on Friday pleaded guilty to theft of federal funds.
On Feb. 5, 44-year-old Sheryl Lynn Lawrence of Colstrip admitted to stealing federal money in a false claim she made to the organization while serving as executive director in November 2017.
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.
According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice, Lawrence claimed more money on a travel advance for a work trip to Las Vegas than was necessary, and spent the balance on her personal expenses throughout her trip.
Lawrence told the company that she drove from Montana to Las Vegas, and claimed $1,826 in gas money –– an amount that exceeded what the cost of a flight would have been, and according to the press release, “was never approved by the OVW, nor would it ever have been approved.”
Lawrence faces a maximum 10-year prison sentence, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. Sentencing is set for June 3.
“Lawrence's actions intentionally deprived OVW from using the federal funds for their intended purpose to help Native American victims of domestic and sexual violence,” the release states.
Lawrence stepped down from her position as executive director in December 2017, Montana Native Women’s Coalition’s current director, Jean Bearcrane, told Native News Online.
Two other defendants in the case, Barbara Mary Daychief of Browning and Meredith McConnell of Colstrip, were board members for the organization at the time, she said.
Daychief pleaded guilty to theft of federal funds on Jan. 22, and McConnell pleaded not guilty to charges.
As a result of the charges, Bearcrane said the coalition has been working with OVW to prevent a similar incident from happening again.
“The coalition is finalizing policies that will have much more secure checks and balances… in financial policies,” Bearcrane said. “We talked to OVW yesterday so they’re ready to review them.”
More Stories Like ThisBiden Administration to Host 2021 White House Tribal Nations Summit
Albuquerque man sentenced to 5 years for assault in Indian Country
Gun Lake Casino Cuts Ribbon on $100M Expansion
#MMIW: FBI Offers $10,000 Reward for Information on Missing Tulalip Tribal Woman
Native News Weekly (9/19/2021): D.C. Briefs
Native Perspective. Native Voices. Native News.
We launched Native News Online because the mainstream media often overlooks news that is important is Native people. We believe that everyone in Indian Country deserves equal access to news and commentary pertaining to them, their relatives and their communities. That's why the story you’ve just finished was free — and we want to keep it that way, for all readers. We hope you'll consider making a donation to support our efforts so that we can continue publishing more stories that make a difference to Native people, whether they live on or off the reservation. Your donation will help us keep producing quality journalism and elevating Indigenous voices. 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.