A Billings contractor along with two Billings companies and a Chippewa Cree tribal member are facing federal conspiracy charges stemming from a large, ongoing corruption investigation of the north-central Montana tribe.
Kevin David McGovern, 46, of Billings, and Brian Kelly Eagleman, 53, of Box Elder, an elected member of the tribe’s business committee and co-chairman of the tribe’s Roads Division Oversight Committee, pleaded not guilty to multiple counts in an indictment during an appearance Tuesday in Great Falls before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Johnston.
Two of McGovern’s companies, MC Equipment Holdings LLC, a heavy construction equipment rental company based in Billings, and MT Waterworks LLC, a pipe and pipe-fitting supply company based in Billings, also were named as defendants in the indictment.
McGovern is charged with conspiracy to defraud the Chippewa Cree Tribe, defrauding the tribe and bribery.
McGovern was Yellowstone County’s public works director for four months when he resigned in 2004 to start CMG Construction Inc. with two other partners. CMG Construction specializes in site development and construction and was a subcontractor who did earthwork on the new James F. Battin Federal Courthouse in downtown Billings.
McGovern also was featured in the 2006 edition of Billings Business’ 40 Under Forty, which honors 40 high-achieving professionals, business owners, managers and artists who are working to make the community better. McGovern worked for 11 years for the former JTL Group Inc. before going to the county.
Eagleman is charged with conspiracy to defraud the tribe, defrauding the tribe and theft from an Indian tribal organization.
The Chippewa Cree Tribe is headquartered in Box Elder on the Rocky Boy’s Reservation.
The indictment, unsealed on Tuesday, is the latest in a series of criminal charges federal prosecutors have brought against numerous tribal officials and non-tribal people accused in a broad corruption scheme in which federal dollars for various projects have been stolen or misappropriated.
One of the central figures in the corruption scheme was Tony Belcourt, a former state legislator who was the chief executive officer and contracting officer for the Chippewa Cree Construction Corporation, which the tribe created to manage a large federally funded project to bring drinking water to the reservation.
Belcourt, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence and was ordered to pay $667,000 restitution for his guilty pleas, took bribes and kickbacks from consultants who were awarded federally funded contracts.
Belcourt also was a majority owner in MT Waterworks, which he started with money he got in a pipe-shipping kickback scheme with another co-defendant, Tammy Leischner of Laurel. McGovern also was an owner in MT Waterworks.
The latest indictment alleges McGovern conspired with Belcourt and others to sell an asphalt mixer, known as a hot plant, at a premium price to the tribe by enticing a tribal official to promote the sale with the promise of receiving “a finder’s fee,” giving the official a financial interest in the sale of the equipment at the highest possible price.
The prosecutors said McGovern told Belcourt in the fall of 2011 that MC Equipment Holdings wanted to sell a hot plant it had bought 18 months earlier for $1.2 million.
McGovern told Belcourt that the company would pay him a “finder’s fee” equal to however much Belcourt could get “over and above the asking price,” the indictment said.
Using his influence and tribal connections, Belcourt got the tribe to approve the purchase of the hot plant for $1.7 million. MC Holdings received four tribal payments totaling $1.7 million in February 2012.
Then in April 2012, McGovern paid Belcourt $91,800 from an MT Waterworks account, the indictment said. McGovern also issued a check for $229,000 from a MC Equipment Holdings account payable to Huston Leasing, a Havre company owned by Shad Huston.
Huston was sentenced in February to more than three years in federal prison and ordered to pay $500,000 restitution for his convictions in a corruption scheme. Prosecutors said Huston gave tribal officials cash and gifts in return for lucrative contracts for work on the reservation paid for with federal money.
Huston, the indictment said, deposited MC Equipment’s $229,000 check and made various payments to others, including $50,000 to the IRS for the benefit of Eagleman, and $12,558 for the personal benefit of Bruce Sunchild, who was the tribal chairman.
Sunchild is serving a prison sentence in a separate corruption conviction.
The indictment accuses Eagleman of working with others to buy the hot plant from MC Equipment using tribal money “well knowing that the hot plant was unnecessary and would likely remain unused, and that the sales price was significantly greater than the actual sale price of a hot plant so that the participants would all personally benefit from the transaction.”
The judge continued McGovern’s and Eagleman’s release pending trial. The maximum penalty for defrauding the tribe is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The companies as corporate defendants face a maximum fine of $500,000 on each count.
The case will be heard by U.S. District Judge Brian Morris.