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Julian Bear Runner, 38, who served as president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe from 2018 to 2020, was convicted of six criminal counts on Thursday, April 4, 2024, following a three-day jury trial in federal district court in Rapid City, South Dakota. 

Bear Runner was convicted of wire fraud, one count of larceny, and one count of embezzlement and theft from an Indian tribal organization.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in custody and/or a $250,000 fine, three years of supervised release, and an $800 special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, South Dakota District, prosecuted the case. Evidence presented to the jury showed that between January of 2019 and January of 2020, Bear Runner, while acting in his capacity as president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, fraudulently submitted travel vouchers for official business travel. He then received payment for travel that he was not entitled to because he was not actually traveling. 

The evidence showed that Bear Runner submitted multiple travel authorizations to different locations outside South Dakota — including New Mexico, Montana, Ohio, North Carolina, New York, and Arizona — claiming the need to travel for official business. As a result of those travel authorizations, Bear Runner received thousands of dollars in advance travel payments, but did not actually go on the trips. Instead, Bear Runner cashed the checks at a casino, gambled, and stayed in local hotels.

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The fraudulent travel authorizations totaled approximately $80,000.

“When government leaders abuse positions of power for personal financial gain, it’s the public that pays the price,” Alison J. Ramsdell, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota said in a statement. “In this case, Julian Bear Runner stole more than $80,000 from the Oglala Sioux Tribe, embezzling money that could have otherwise been used to improve life for those living throughout the Pine Ridge Reservation. We are grateful to our partners at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, and the FBI for conducting a fulsome investigation of Bear Runner’s fraudulent activities and helping us secure today’s swift verdict.”

When he was elected, Bear Runner was the second-youngest person ever elected as the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s president.  He lost re-election in 2020 to former state senator Kevin Killer.

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About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].