Judge denies separate trials for fake tribal chief, members

By Roxana Hegeman
Wichita, Kansas (AP) 6-08

The self-proclaimed chief of an unrecognized American Indian tribe has not shown a real risk that his defense will be prejudiced by going to trial along with tribal members in an alleged scam to defraud immigrants, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

During a hearing June 5, U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown denied a motion from Malcolm Webber, also known as Grand Chief Thunderbird IV, to sever his trial from the trial of his co-defendants.

Brown said the defendants were properly joined by the alleged scam for one trial.

Prosecutors contend the Kaweah Indian Nation defrauded legal and illegal immigrants across the nation by falsely claiming tribal membership would give them U.S. citizenship and would allow immigrants to obtain other documents and benefits, including Social Security cards.

Attorney Kurt Kerns, who represents Webber, argued in court documents that Webber believed he was providing a legitimate method for illegal immigrants to become registered in the United States and enjoy a first step toward citizenship.

He wanted to separate the trials because Webber contends the bulk of the alleged fraud was committed by underlings in their efforts to make money while other defendants are arguing that they were duped by Webber.

Federal prosecutors last year charged 11 people, including the chief and the tribal entity, in a 17-count indictment. Charges have since been dismissed against one defendant and another defendant has pleaded guilty to falsely claiming U.S. citizenship.

Webber and the remaining nine defendants are scheduled for trial Aug. 5.

  Some of the defendants will plead out we are not going to have 10 defendants at trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson told the judge. We are going to try to work it out.

The indictment charges Webber, 69, of Bel Aire with four counts of harboring illegal immigrants, one count of possession of false documents with intent to defraud the United States, three counts of conspiracy with intent to defraud the United States, one count of mail fraud and one count of producing false identification documents.

Remaining defendants named in the indictment are Debra J. Flynn of Wichita; Chuck Flynn of Wichita; Jorge B. Villareal, a citizen of Mexico who lived in Bell Flower, Calif.; Eduviges Del Carmen-Zamora of Wichita and a native of El Salvador; Angel O. Zamora, a citizen of Guatemala; Britton A. Bergman of Wichita; Hector Nolasco Pena, a citizen of Honduras who lives in Oklahoma City; and Victor W. Orvellana, a citizen of Mexico who lives in Long Beach, Calif.

Jamie Cervantes, a citizen of Mexico, has pleaded guilty to submitting a Social Security application in which he falsely claimed to be a U.S. citizen. His sentencing was June 10.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs denied Webber's request for federal recognition of his Kaweah Indian Nation in 1984. The agency said Webber was not an Indian and that his organization had no historical characteristics of an Indian tribe.