Former tribal school board president pleads guilty 4-13-07

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The former president of the Twin Buttes School Board has admitted to embezzling and agreed to cooperate in the probe into school finances.

Melissa Starr changed her plea to guilty this week in U.S. District Court in Bismarck. She is charged with stealing up to $330,000 of the school's money. Gov. John Hoeven earlier this year suspended Starr and two other board members.

Former School Board vice president Darcy Lone Bear, who was charged with stealing $25,000 in school money, was to plead guilty at a hearing Friday morning.

Terms of plea agreements are sealed, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Hochhalter. He did say Starr's guilty plea could reduce her prison time to between 11/2 and 2 years. The charge against her carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. A sentencing date was not set.

Starr and Lone Bear and five others from the school were indicted last November by a federal grand jury for allegedly conspiring to steal about $665,000 from the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation school district from August 2001 until October 2006.

They all pleaded not guilty. Hochhalter said he is hopeful the other five defendants also will change their pleas. Trial is set for May 1.

The others charged with conspiring to embezzle, and the amounts they allegedly took, are former board member Tammy GradyJacobs, $126,000; former principal Elaine Incognito, $67,000; custodian Paul Fredericks, $63,000; board member Hank Starr, $43,000; and school finance officer Lillian Holen, $35,000.

Hank Starr and Lone Bear also were suspended by Hoeven. None of the seven officials are still working at the school.

Authorities said most of the money was stolen through travel vouchers for trips and training that never occurred.