- 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 ThisHo-Chunk Trucker Spreads MMIP Message, Offers Safe Haven from Domestic Violence
Native News Weekly (September 24, 2023): D.C. Briefs
Assemblyman Ramos Honored with Award for Long Service to California Native American Commission
Navajo Nation Council Members Meet with US Treasurer Malerba
Tunica-Biloxi Tribe Chairman Marshall Pierite Launches Bid to Become NCAI President
Native News is free to read.
We hope you enjoyed the story you've just read. For the past dozen years, we’ve covered the most important news stories that are usually overlooked by other media. From the protests at Standing Rock and the rise of the American Indian Movement (AIM), to the ongoing epidemic of Murdered and Missing Indigenous People (MMIP) and the past-due reckoning related to assimilation, cultural genocide and Indian Boarding Schools.
Our news is free for everyone to read, but it is not free to produce. That’s why we’re asking you to make a donation to help support our efforts. Any contribution — big or small — helps. Most readers donate between $10 and $25 to help us cover the costs of salaries, travel and maintaining our digital platforms. If you’re in a position to do so, we ask you to consider making a recurring donation of $12 per month to join the Founder's Circle. All donations help us remain a force for change in Indian Country and tell the stories that are so often ignored, erased or overlooked.
Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you.