- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana’s Chippewa Cree Tribe has settled a lawsuit against a former partner accused of siphoning millions of dollars from a lucrative online lending company through hidden agreements with a handful of tribal officials.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris dismissed the lawsuit Tuesday after he agreed to enforce the settlement through September 2017. The terms of the settlement were not released.

The tribe had accused four men who ran a Henderson, Nevada-based company called Encore Services of making side deals with certain tribal officials that allowed them to take 15 percent of the revenues of Plain Green, the tribe’s lending company. A third of that money went back to the tribal officials, according to the lawsuit.

Encore was a partner in the tribe’s first lending company, which failed in 2011. Company officials said the tribe had given them exclusive rights over any of its lending ventures, and that the fee agreement for a share of Plain Green’s revenues was legitimate.

However, Encore lost an arbitration case over the issue when a mediator agreed the hidden payments to former Plain Green executives Neal Rosette and Billi Anne Morsette nullified the agreement. Encore was ordered to pay $1.18 million to the tribe.

The tribe said that wasn’t enough and filed its lawsuit in federal court in 2014 seeking $13 million. That’s the amount tribal officials claimed Encore and its leaders took from Plain Green and the tribe’s first lending company, First American Capital Resources.

In December, Rosette and Morsette pleaded guilty to criminal charges of stealing money from the tribe and to taking bribes from Encore. They were sentenced to more than three years in prison and ordered to pay $1.4 million in restitution.

Encore officials acknowledged last year in the civil lawsuit that they, too, were under investigation by the U.S Attorney’s Office over the payments to Rosette, Morsette and tribal official James Eastlick Jr. No charges have been filed against the Encore officials.

Eastlick was previously sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to charges in multiple cases as part of a wide-ranging federal investigation into corruption on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation.

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