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Former Chippewa Cree tribal council member sentenced to 5 ½ years in prison

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HELENA, Montana — A judge sentenced a former Chippewa Cree tribal council member Wednesday to 5 ½ years in prison after he pleaded guilty to embezzlement, tax evasion and other charges in a federal corruption investigation.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris also ordered John "Chance" Houle to pay restitution of $121,219 for the tax evasion charge, in addition to a total of $525,237 split between him and three co-defendants.

Houle pleaded guilty to three felony charges in December in an agreement with federal prosecutors that dropped additional charges.

Prosecutors said Houle took bribes and kickbacks from contractors while he was on the Chippewa Cree Business Committee, then tried to conceal the payments by having them made to his children and the Flying Rock Cattle Co.

Houle received $306,987 between 2009 and 2011 in exchange for contracts he awarded to Hunter Burns Construction Co., which was partly owned by James Eastlick Jr., a former psychologist at the reservation's health clinic, prosecutors said.

Eastlick pleaded guilty in April to aiding and abetting theft from an Indian tribal government receiving federal funding.

Houle also was accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a bank account for the Chippewa Cree Rodeo Association. Houle and another tribal member, Wade Colliflower, disguised the payments to look like legitimate rodeo expenses, prosecutors said, and he received cash and money to buy a vehicle for his daughter.

Colliflower pleaded guilty to related charges and was sentenced in May to six months in prison and six months home confinement.

The case came from a wide-ranging federal investigation into the misuse of U.S. government money on Montana Indian reservations.

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