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Tribal corruption appeal heard

Duane Big Eagle

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The attorney for the former Crow Creek Sioux tribal chairman sentenced to three years in prison for bribery and accepting kickbacks argued Friday that by admitting certain evidence, a judge denied his client a fair trial.

A federal jury convicted Duane Big Eagle in August 2011 of two counts of conspiracy to bribe a tribal official and one count of aiding and abetting the bribery of a tribal official. He filed an appeal of the conviction Dec. 13. The conviction stems from two incidents, one in 2005 and another in 2008, in which Big Eagle and other tribal officials took bribes and kickbacks from contractors they hired with federal funds.

The issue presented in Big Eagle's appeal, both in a brief written by Big Eagle's attorney Dana L. Hanna, of Rapid City, filed March 6 and in Hanna's argument presented to the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday morning in St. Paul, Minn., centers on evidence presented during the trial.

Hanna claims evidence of other conspiracies Big Eagle was allegedly involved in, but not charged with in the indictment, should not have been admitted as evidence during his trial.

"It came in for no limited purpose," Hanna said in an online recording of the hearing reviewed by The Daily Republic. "It came in as proof."

In a brief filed before the hearing, Hanna argues that "by allowing the government to offer highly prejudicial evidence of bribes and conspiracies not charged in the indictment" and "without instructing the jury that such evidence was only to be considered for the limited purpose of determining whether (Big Eagle) knowingly and intentionally participated in the crimes charged in the indictment," the court made an error and denied Big Eagle a fair trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Victoria L. Francis argued for the prosecution.

"Evidence to explain the conspiracy should come in," Francis said, citing past conspiracy cases in which evidence of uncharged crimes was admitted.

Francis argued the evidence in question was intrinsic in Big Eagle's case. In a brief filed before the hearing, prosecutors argue "the corruption" present in both the crimes Big Eagle is charged with in the indictment and other crimes left uncharged but alluded to at trial are "inextricably tied together."

The court did not rule on the appeal Friday and gave no date when a ruling will be issued.