Ex-tribal chair seeks light sentence in fraud, cites virus

Ex-tribal chair seeks light sentence in fraud, cites virus

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Former Blackfeet Nation Chairman Willie Sharp

Former Blackfeet Nation Chair Willie Sharp is seen during the 2011 Montana Legislature. 

BILLINGS — A former Blackfeet Nation chairman who pleaded guilty to defrauding a tribal education program through an overtime pay scheme is asking for probation instead of prison due to the coronavirus.

Federal prosecutors have recommended about two years in prison for Willie Sharp, 66, after he admitted to his role in stealing more than $230,000 from the Montana tribe's Head Start early education program.

But Sharp's attorney said in a sentencing memo submitted to the court that the Bureau of Prisons is unprepared for the virus pandemic that's sweeping many parts of the globe. The defendant's age and problems with diabetes and high blood pressure would put Sharp at risk of health problems including death if he's infected, attorney Andrew Huff said.

His sentencing is set for March 30 before U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Great Falls.

Sharp pleaded guilty to wire fraud last year after he authorized false overtime claims totaling over $174,000, including payments to his wife, Denise Sharp, over a 15-month period starting in 2013, prosecutors said.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Denise Sharp and four others were convicted and sentenced to eight or nine months in prison.

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