Former Blackfeet chair pleads not guilty to theft, wire fraud

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Former Blackfeet Tribal Chairman Willie Andrew Sharp, who is accused of stealing federal money from the Head Start Program, pleaded not guilty in federal court Tuesday to charges in an indictment.

According to information from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Great Falls, Sharp, 65, of Browning, pleaded not guilty to theft from an Indian tribal government receiving federal funding and to wire fraud as charged in an indictment.

Sharp appeared for arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge John T. Johnston in Great Falls. Johnston released Sharp pending trial.

Sharp faces a maximum 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release on the most serious charge. The indictment also is seeking a criminal forfeiture money judgment of $38,711 from Sharp.

The indictment alleges that Sharp, while chairman of the Blackfeet Tribe, ultimately oversaw the Head Start Program and approved and ensured others approved overtime at the Blackfeet Head Start Program, knowing that the overtime was false.

In total, individuals at the Blackfeet Head Start Program, including Sharp’s wife, Denise L. Sharp, claimed more than 7,800 hours in overtime and received more than $232,000 in federal funds from the program in a 15-month time period, starting in about April 2013. Denise Sharp pleaded guilty earlier to charges in the case and is awaiting sentencing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Weldon is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the FBI.

The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris.

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