Feds accuse 15 people of stealing Yakama Nation scholarship funds

By Kate Prengaman, Yakima Herald-Republic

TOPPENISH, Wash. — Fifteen people, including an interim manager and former manager, are facing federal charges for allegedly stealing $179,000 worth of scholarships from the Yakama Nation Higher Education Program.

The suspects were awarded a total of 67 checks ranging from $1,000 to $6,500 for studies at colleges and universities that reported the students had never enrolled or completed coursework, according to the indictments handed down in U.S. District Court in Yakima.

According to investigators, the fraudulent scholarship applications were submitted between 2009 and 2012.

The tribe’s higher education program administered both federal Bureau of Indian Affairs student assistance funding and the tribe’s own scholarship program. Estimates of how much money was available for scholarships through the program each year was not available Wednesday.

Calls to the Yakama Nation Tribal Council requesting comment were not returned.

FBI agents and Yakama Nation police arrested 11 people on Tuesday, said Ayn Dietrich, an FBI spokeswoman in Seattle. They made court appearances in Yakima on Tuesday.

Those not arrested were expected to report to court this week, Dietrich said.

Among those indicted were Priscilla Marie Gardee, interim manager of the program, and Delford Neaman, former manager. Also indicted were Phillip Stevens, Anthony Linn Gardee, Sophia Leta Gardee, Tamera Jean Gardee, Latonia Wheeler, Cynthia A. Arthur, Crystal L. Miller, Arnetta Amy Blodgett, Brycene Allen Neaman, Gilbert Onepennee, Odessa P. Johnson, Phillip A. Burdeau Sr. and Susan Aleck.

According to program documentation from 2013, scholarship funding was to go to Yakama students attending a college or university full time. Awards were granted at the rate of $1,500 per academic year for undergraduate students and $3,000 a year for graduate students. Students who withdrew from school were required to refund their scholarships.

Federal Indictment: Man Accused of Defrauding Nonprofit Dedicated to Natives of $4 Million

brian-james-brownICTMN Staff, 10/22/13

Brian James Brown, 56, the former president of a national nonprofit that addresses the critical issues and disparities facing Native Americans, is accused of conspiring to defraud that organization, National Relief Charities, of $4 million under the guise of using the money to fund scholarships for Native students, according to federal prosecutors. The indictment also accuses him of laundering proceeds.

On the morning of Sunday, October 20 at Portland International Airport, FBI and IRS agents arrested Brown when he stepped off a plane after returning from a month-long trip to Thailand and Japan, reported KPTV in Beaverton, Oregon.

In court on October 21, Brown pleaded not guilty to wire fraud and money laundering. He was released pending trial set for December 17. He has been ordered to surrender his passport, wear a GPS-monitoring ankle strap, and not leave his house from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.

“…[When] we became aware of a potential problem, we had our attorney conduct an investigation or initiate an investigation,” Helen Oliff, the public relations representative for National Relief Charities told Indian Country Today Media Network. “Based on the findings, we alerted the FBI. They took it from there.

“We also filed a suit in civil court in Texas, which is where we have headquarters. And that court issued a default judgement against Brown, requiring him to repay the funds with interest and legal fees,” Oliff added.

Brown stepped down from president of National Relief Charities in 2005, when he established a nonprofit of his own, Charity One, Inc., operating under the name “American Indian Education Endowment Fund.”

Brown reportedly convinced National Relief Charities to fund his nonprofit’s purported efforts to help cover the costs of higher education for Native Americans with $4 million from 2006 to 2009, reported OregonLive.com.

“Instead,” the government states in a news release, “Brown and unnamed co-conspirators allegedly used the entire $4 million for their personal benefit.”

The indictment alleges National Relief Charities mailed monthly checks of copy00,000 and $200,000 to Charity One, based in Beaverton, Oregon. Brown reportedly provided National Relief Charities with false financial statements, showing the money went to just causes.

This isn’t the first time Brown has been charged with misuse of nonprofit funds. In 1993, Pennsylvania’s attorney general accused Brown and the American Indian Relief Council, a subsidiary of National Relief Charities, of “exploiting Native Americans in South Dakota and caring Americans nationwide by collecting millions of dollars on the pretext of feeding starving tribes, while pocketing all but about 4 percent of the proceeds,” reported PhoenixNewTimes.com.

However, Oliff said, “there was no finding of wrong doing.”

National Relief Charities supports the initiatives of over 1,000 organizations located on reservations. In 2012, the nonprofit provided over $30 million in support of basic humanitarian needs to Native Americans in the Plains and Southwest, such as nutrition, education and training, preventative healthcare and emergency relief, states its annual report.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/10/22/federal-indictment-man-accused-defrauding-nonprofit-dedicated-natives-4-million-151875