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Duane Big Eagle

Crow Creek chairman's corruption trial ends today, likely without his testimony

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Crow Creek chairman's corruption trial ends today, likely without his testimony
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

PIERRE -- Federal prosecutors finished presenting their case Wednesday in the bribery and conspiracy trial of Crow Creek Sioux tribal chairman Duane Big Eagle. His defense lawyer offered no witnesses, and there was no indication Big Eagle will testify.

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The case began Monday and is scheduled to go to the jury today. The past two chairmen, Lester Thompson Jr. and Brandon Sazue Sr., testified Wednesday for the prosecution.

Lester Thompson explained how immense financial problems he found after winning election in 2006 led to his request for help that eventually triggered the federal investigation. He faced no cross-examination.

He said that while he was chairman he returned from an official trip to Washington, D.C., to discover the tribal council had accepted a $300,000 loan from Archie Baumann, a contractor from Fort Pierre, with an interest rate of $1,000 per day if the loan wasn't repaid in 30 days.

Sazue told about two unsolicited bribes he received in 2008 after taking office as chairman -- he admitted he spent the two $1,000 payments -- and how he then agreed to wear a recording device for the FBI and taped 25 to 35 conversations, including one at Baumann's business.

Big Eagle was chairman before Thompson. Sazue beat Big Eagle in 2008, then Big Eagle defeated Sazue to return to the office in 2010. Big Eagle is charged for his alleged roles in two specific incidents in 2005 and 2008.

Prosecutors played for the jury a lengthy recording, secretly taped by Sazue, of the Oct. 21, 2008, meeting at First Dakota Enterprises in Fort Pierre. The recording showed that Big Eagle accepted a $5,000 check from contractor Baumann.

Big Eagle cashed the check and returned to distribute $4,000 to others who were waiting at the meeting, with Big Eagle keeping $1,000.

Both Sazue and his FBI handler testified they didn't expect Big Eagle to be at the meeting.

Baumann is serving a federal prison sentence after confessing to a charge against him as part of the bribery conspiracy. He testified Tuesday. He said the check was a loan to the men.

Sazue said Wednesday there were code words for bribes such as "pow-wow money" and "loans." He said the word "loan" was written in the memo line on the first two bribe checks he received.

Sazue received $1,000 of the money from Big Eagle at the First Dakota meeting, and the FBI placed that money in evidence.

Defense attorney Mark Hanna spent two hours Wednesday morning working to show perjury by another witness, former tribal treasurer and council member Norman Thompson Sr., who is serving a federal prison sentence for his admitted role in the bribery ring.

Hanna also attempted Tuesday to portray another witness, former Crow Creek school superintendent Scott Raue, as having committed perjury. Raue is in federal prison in Minnesota for his admitted role in the bribery and conspiracy

Raue and Norman Thompson testified about Big Eagle's receipt of bribe money at his bait shop in 2005, when Raue arrived there with $10,000 to be split among four men including Big Eagle, Raue and Norman Thompson. Big Eagle's share was $4,000, according to Norman Thompson.

Hanna showed that Norman Thompson seemed to say the bait-shop incident was in 2002 when he first spoke to federal investigators about it. Norman Thompson disputed that contention, saying the investigators were talking to him about a reference in his notes to a 2002 incident and he was referring in his spoken comments to 2005.

Hanna tried to connect that discrepancy with discussion at the same meeting referring to the five-year statute of limits for prosecution of a federal crime such as bribery.

When Norman Thompson was asked again about the conflicting dates, Thompson said he started taking bribes in 1998 and Big Eagle was taking them, too. He said Big Eagle introduced him to Baumann.

Asked if there were other bribe distributions at Big Eagle's bait shop before 2005, Norman Thompson answered, "Yeah, there, all over."

While the jurors were on mid-afternoon break after the prosecution finished, Judge Lange denied the defense's request that Big Eagle be acquitted on all charges. Hanna claimed there was insufficient evidence.

The judge said comments by Big Eagle on the First Dakota recording suggested that Big Eagle understood the money from Baumann was for something other than a loan. The judge said it wasn't up to him but was a matter for the jurors to decide whether to believe Raue and Norman Thompson.

The judge's denial of the acquittal motion was followed by a sidebar conference between the judge and two of the lawyers.

When the 13 jurors returned from break, the judge let them leave for the rest of the day. "We'll have the case to you for your deliberations tomorrow morning," the judge told jurors, referring to this morning.

The lawyers and judge used the remainder of the afternoon to hash through jury instructions. Big Eagle didn't stay. Closing arguments are scheduled for this morning with 45 minutes for each side.

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