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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Sammy Blackbear, who claims he is the rightful leader of the Goshutes' Skull Valley Band, has pleaded guilty to misusing $1,000 in tribal funds.
Blackbear entered the plea in federal court Monday and agreed to help the federal government in its cases against other tribal members involved in the leadership dispute.
In exchange, the U.S. Attorney's Office agreed to drop bank-fraud charges.
Sentencing was set for July 14, following a June 16 restitution hearing.
Blackbear, Marlinda Moon, Miranda Wash and their attorney, Duncan Steadman, were charged in December 2003 with embezzlement and bank fraud after they used what prosecutors alleged were bogus legal documents to take control of nearly $1.4 million in tribal funds.
Blackbear, Moon and Wash claimed they were elected chairman, vice chairman and secretary at a Sept. 22, 2001, tribal meeting. The Bureau of Indian Affairs did not recognize the change in leadership, and Leon Bear has continued as chairman.
Blackbear contended that he was the legitimate tribal leader and had a right to move the funds to prevent Bear from spending them.
Prosecutors said the banks allowed the defendants access to the Goshute accounts after they presented a phony election certification and a court order from the "Nato Indian nation," a Provo-based group that claims to be a nationwide tribe. The defendants were able to withdraw $45,800 from one account and gave attorney Steadman $11,000 before the accounts were frozen.
Defense attorney Dave Finlayson, who represented Blackbear on Monday, said his understanding of the plea deal was that Blackbear would assist the federal government in a case against Bear as well as the remaining prosecutions of Moon, Wash and Steadman.
Bear was indicted separately on embezzlement and tax charges in December 2003. His trial is set for April 18.
The charges have no direct ties to the proposal by utility consortium Private Fuel Storage to build a high-level nuclear waste storage facility on the Skull Valley reservation.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)