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Crow Creek tribal chairman indicted

FORT THOMPSON -- The Crow Creek Sioux tribal chairman was indicted Wednesday on federal charges of conspiracy and bribery for allegedly taking money intended to ensure certain contractors would rebuild the Crow Creek Tribal School after a 2005 fire.

Duane Big Eagle, whose age was listed as 60 in April, faces two counts of conspiracy to commit bribery of a tribal official and two counts of bribery involving a tribal government agent.

Big Eagle, who resides at Fort Thompson and also serves on the tribal school board, is accused of receiving cash from former tribal school superintendent Scott Raue between July 2005 and December 2005 for facilitating payments on the school construction project, according to an Oct. 6 complaint filed by Anthony Hoben of the U.S. Interior Department Inspector General's office in Rapid City. Highmore contractor Royal Kutz made thousands of dollars in payments to Raue and some payments to Big Eagle as part of the conspiracy, court documents say.

Raue was among seven people who were charged in 2008 in a money laundering scheme at the tribal school, according to The Associated Press. The case involved kickbacks and money laundering as contractors sought work for rebuilding the school's dormitory and kitchen.

Raue was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in July 2009 for bribery.

Big Eagle also is accused of conspiring to accept cash between May 2008 and October 2008 and taking that money, according to the indictment.

Fort Pierre contractor Archie Baumann planned to give kickbacks to Raue, Big Eagle and his fellow tribal council and tribal school board members, Norman Thompson Sr. and Randy Shields, as a reward for approving loan agreements and a construction contract for work at the school, according to court documents.

Thompson and Shields received 50-month and 40-month sentences, respectively, last June, while Baumann will be sentenced Nov. 8.

Big Eagle pleaded not guilty to the charges Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Pierre, said Jessica Fehr, an assistant U.S. attorney in Montana.

The Montana U.S. attorney's office was asked to prosecute Big Eagle's case after the South Dakota U.S. attorney's office recused itself, Fehr said. South Dakota U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson said his office has a conflict with the case, but he declined to elaborate.

Big Eagle defeated incumbent Brandon Sazue to become tribal chairman in April.

After the election, Sazue made allegations of vote-buying and other election-law violations against Big Eagle, who previously served as tribal chairman for nearly two decades.

Big Eagle was brought to the Hughes County Jail Tuesday afternoon by federal authorities, said Bill Dodge, Hughes County Jail administrator.

Wilford Keeble, tribal council vice chairman, said the court system provides that one is innocent until proven guilty.

"The tribe is in enough trouble," he told The Daily Republic. "We'll wait and see what happens and go from there."

Peter Lengkeek, tribal council member, said he received calls Wednesday from tribal members asking for Big Eagle to be removed from the council.

A petition is being circulated among residents to remove Big Eagle from office, and that would require at least 300 signatures, Lengkeek said. The council could either vote to remove Big Eagle or the people could do so with the petition, he said.

Big Eagle was released Tuesday on a personal recognizance bond, and his next court appearance has yet to be set, Fehr said.