Man who embezzled from tribe gets 30 months

Man who embezzled from tribe gets 30 months

Kevin Taylor Staff writer

A man accused of masterminding a plot to embezzle money from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe was sentenced Tuesday to spend 30 months in prison and repay $50,580 – about half the amount believed to have been stolen.

Theoplis Daniels, 33, according to federal indictments, was part of a scheme in which $111,110 was bilked from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe through fake “per capita” payments and false claims for death benefits.

The court documents said Daniels conspired with Pamela Johnson, who was fired as secretary in the tribal enrollment office in January 2002. The embezzlement is believed to have occurred from May 2000, when the two met and became friends, until December 2000, documents said.

Daniels had earlier pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of theft from a tribal organization. In return for his guilty plea, the government dropped 34 additional theft charges.

Johnson pleaded guilty last July and was sentenced to six months’ incarceration, six months of electronic home monitoring and is required to pay back the other half of the embezzled money.

On Tuesday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge sentenced Daniels to 41 months in a federal prison, but hastily reconvened the court before everyone scattered.

“The court made an error and it is to your favor,” Lodge said, telling Daniels he had miscalculated the sentencing math.

Federal courts use a system of “levels of offense” and “criminal history categories” to determine a sentencing range. When he checked his calculations, Lodge said, he determined Daniels should be an offense level 13 and a criminal history category four, which calls for a sentence ranging from 24 to 30 months.

“Because of this considerable reduction, the court feels the sentence should be at the top of the category, so you are getting 30 months,” Lodge said.

Lodge also denied a request that Daniels be allowed two weeks to turn himself in. Daniels was able to kiss a friend and her small child before being handcuffed and led away.

“This was a records-intensive investigation,” said Kevin Dunton, an FBI agent based in Coeur d’Alene. “This was a great team effort, I think, between the FBI and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. Once they sniffed something was wrong, they went after it.”

People began asking questions, Dunton said, when Daniels’ name turned up as an enrolled tribal member in 2000. Daniels was a karaoke DJ based in Spokane, Dunton said, and is not Native American. He and Johnson apparently met while he was performing at a club.

The embezzlement scheme was “pretty involved,” Dunton said. Per- capita money is distributed to enrolled tribal members from casino profits. Investigators said Johnson, as enrollment secretary, knew of tribal members – often elderly – who had not gotten their per-capita checks and whose money was deposited into trust accounts.

Fake letters, purporting to be from these tribal members, would be sent to the bank asking for their money. The checks would be sent to an address where Johnson and Daniels would pick them up. The two then hired third parties to cash the checks using fake tribal ID cards, Dunton said. In other cases, death certificates were falsified so the embezzlers could claim federal death benefits.

The letters and the death certificates were placed in tribal records to cover the scheme, Dunton said.

Tribal vice chairman Richard Mullen said the Coeur d’Alenes still do not know the full extent of the embezzlement. The federal investigation covered the period when Johnson and Daniels were working together.

Mullen said the tribe has asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to check its accounts to determine if the embezzlement has been more extensive.

Mullen is now in charge of the enrollment office, working with two other people. “There are three people in the office now instead of one,” he said.

Copyright 2003 Cowles Publishing Company

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