- Associated Press - Friday, April 22, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - An appeals court has upheld a former Montana legislator’s 7 ½-year prison sentence for his involvement in a corruption scheme on the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation.

Tony Belcourt had sought a lighter sentence and a reduction of the $667,000 in restitution he must pay after pleading guilty in 2014 to taking kickbacks and bribes for awarding contracts using federal aid as head of the Chippewa Cree Construction Company.

A panel of judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday rejected Belcourt’s request, saying a lower court was correct in finding that Belcourt had power over important financial decisions that affected the tribe and that he was a leader in the scheme.

Belcourt was voted out of his state House seat in 2012. As CEO of the tribe’s construction company, he awarded federal contracts for projects on the reservation.

He pleaded guilty to theft, bribery and tax-evasion charges in a widespread federal investigation of misuse of federal aid to Montana’s Indian reservations.

Prosecutors said he worked with others who created shell companies to hide the payments.

In one instance, Belcourt awarded a total of $660,000 in federal stimulus aid to a consulting company to ship pipe for a new drinking water pipeline to the reservation. The consulting company overbilled the cost of shipping the pipe, and it sent $163,000 of that money back to Belcourt and his wife, prosecutors said.

The Belcourts used the money to buy a house in Box Elder and to start a company called MT Waterworks, which was later awarded a federal contract for the pipeline project.

In 2009, Belcourt approved a $94,000 payment to another contractor on the water pipeline job. The next week, that company cut Belcourt’s wife a $35,000 check.

The same company later gave the Belcourts a $100,000 loan after Tony Belcourt approved a $148,000 payment to the company, prosecutors said.

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