Confessed criminals explain how cash went to Crow Creek tribal leaderPIERRE — Federal prosecutors sent five confessed criminals to testify Tuesday in the bribery and conspiracy trial of Crow Creek Sioux tribal chairman Duane Big Eagle.
By: Bob Mercer, The Daily Republic
PIERRE — Federal prosecutors sent five confessed criminals to testify Tuesday in the bribery and conspiracy trial of Crow Creek Sioux tribal chairman Duane Big Eagle.
The thousands of dollars that allegedly flowed to him were described in different ways. Sometimes they called the money bribes and extortion payments. Other times it was labeled as financial help, loans, consulting payments and travel expenses.
The common denominator was that all five men told how thousands of dollars changed hands, as payments were made to Big Eagle and other tribal officials, either directly or through a middle-man, from construction contractors and subcontractors working on tribal projects.
The five witnesses Tuesday were construction contractor Royal Kutz, of Highmore; former Crow Creek school superintendent Scott Raue; construction contractor Archie Baumann, from First Dakota Enterprises at Fort Pierre; contract architect Craig McClatchey, of Denver; and former tribal councilman and treasurer Norman Thompson Sr.
All five previously pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges in the federal government’s investigation into Crow Creek corruption.
Kutz, 81, seemed to have memory trouble and said he had trouble reading transcripts of his previous statements because he had an eighth-grade education. He has finished serving his probation.
Raue, an admitted gambling addict who had bribe money express-delivered to his mother’s house in Pierre, said he personally handed money to Big Eagle on at least two to six occasions.
Big Eagle’s lawyer, Mark Hanna, worked hard to knock apart Raue’s credibility, showing Raue has already received a reduction of his sentence to five years from the original 10.
Hanna suggested Raue, who remains in federal prison in Minnesota, is angling for a further reduction.
“I’ve been told no,” Raue responded.
Raue, Baumann and Thompson made their courtroom appearances wearing the orange and vanilla stripes of prison jumpsuits. Shackles softly jingled each time one of the three shuffled to and from the witness stand.
Baumann appeared to be trying to catch Big Eagle’s attention as Baumann was escorted from the courtroom past Big Eagle’s defense table to a side door. But Big Eagle stood and turned his back so he could talk to people in the audience.
During his testimony, Baumann said the word “bribe” was never used in discussions involving Big Eagle and other tribal officials. He said that his payments to Big Eagle and others were for many purposes.
He said he’s known Big Eagle since the 1990s – Baumann’s nickname for Big Eagle is “White Boy,” referring to his Caucasian appearance – and said he gave Big Eagle money for travel, consulting, influence and general aid.
Baumann said he also personally made loans of five- and six figures to the tribal government when it ran short of cash. He said the tribal government also owed his business for many projects.
He placed the amount still owed to him and his business “in the realm of $642,000” and said the personal loans and payments were made to Big Eagle and others in the hope the money would help influence them to direct the tribal government to pay him for the business debts.
U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange disallowed federal prosecutors’ attempts to introduce as evidence more than $30,000 of checks Baumann wrote to Big Eagle in recent years that were sometimes labeled as campaign contributions or not labeled at all.
There also was no mention in front of jurors of the $5,000 check Baumann wrote to Big Eagle several years ago for funeral expenses after the death of son Cory Big Eagle.
Baumann, Raue and Thompson gave their versions of a meeting at Baumann’s construction business involving Big Eagle, Raue, several tribal council members including Thompson, and then-chairman Brandon Sazue on Oct. 21, 2008.
Baumann said he was in and out of the room, and the tape recording secretly made by Sazue captured only the part of the meeting after Sazue arrived. Federal prosecutors plan to present the recording today to the jury.
Baumann wrote a check to Big Eagle for $5,000 at that meeting, according to testimony from three of the witnesses Tuesday. Big Eagle left to cash it and returned to divide the money in five shares of $1,000 for Big Eagle, Thompson, Sazue and two others.
Sazue turned his share over to federal agents afterward.
One of the topics at the meeting was how Raue should handle his indictment and how others should react to the federal investigation. Another topic was that several council members asked for financial help again from Baumann.
“They wanted assistance, and the only way they were going to get it was if Duane gave it to them,” Baumann said.
Thompson said he met with Big Eagle at Big Eagle’s house sometime later after Thompson was indicted and they talked about the $1,000 Big Eagle gave to Thompson at the Oct. 21 meeting.
Thompson said Big Eagle suggested Thompson say the money was payment for a van that Big Eagle bought from Thompson months earlier but hadn’t fully paid off yet.
Jurors seemed engaged by Thompson’s candor during his testimony and laughed at some of his humor. He was sentenced to 50 months and is still in prison. “I didn’t have any agreement or anything about getting any time off,” he said.
Big Eagle’s lawyer decided to wait until this morning to cross-examine Thompson.
One key episode on which Hanna might focus in his cross-exam is a meeting at Big Eagle’s bait shop in Fort Thompson that was described by Thompson.
Thompson said Raue arrived that day with $10,000 and spread the cash on the pool table in four amounts. Raue laid out $2,000 apiece for Raue, Thompson and council member Randy Shields, and $4,000 for Big Eagle.
Why twice as much for Big Eagle? “Probably because he was chairman,” Thompson said.