June 19, 2018
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Trial to examine use of tribal funds

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The federal court trial of a former Passamaquoddy tribal governor at Indian Township and the tribe’s ex-business manager is set to begin Monday.

Robert L. Newell, 64, of Princeton and James J. Parisi Jr., 45, of Portland pleaded not guilty on April 1 to a multicount indictment alleging that they misused $1.7 million in federal funds, health care center funds and other tribal money over a 4½-year period.

Newell, who most recently served as tribal governor at Indian Township from 2002 to 2006, and Parisi, who served as Indian Township’s finance director from 2003 to 2006, were indicted on March 19 by a federal grand jury after a nearly two-year investigation.

Their trial is to start before U.S. District Judge George Singal at 8:30 a.m. Monday.

The Indian Township tribal government received more than $7 million in federal funds between Oct. 1, 2002, and Sept. 30, 2006, according to the 29-page indictment. Of that amount, nearly $1.7 million was misapplied by Newell and Parisi for uses not allowed by federal law, the indictment charges.

Among some of the improper uses of the funds were “honoraria” payments made to the governor, lieutenant governor, tribal council members and certain senior employees that were based on vacation time and paid in addition to their regular salaries, according to the indictment. The tribe allegedly did not withhold federal or state taxes from these “honoraria” payments or report the extra payments to the Internal Revenue Service.

The witness list filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office includes about 70 names, including the current Indian Township tribal governor, the former director of the health center on the reservation and other tribal members, as well as officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and investigators at a handful of other federal agencies.

Attorneys for both defendants filed motions in October to continue the trial so they could have more preparation time. Newell also asked that his court-appointed attorney, Matthew Erickson of Brewer, be replaced. Singal denied the motions and Newell’s request.

U.S. District Judge John Woodcock, who usually conducts trials in Bangor, recused himself from the case in June, but court documents do not say why.

The trial is expected to last three weeks with Nov. 11 off for Veterans Day. Court will convene at 8:30 a.m. each day and recess at 2:30 p.m., with two 15-minutes breaks but without a lunch break.

The jury for the trial was selected earlier this week.

Nine of the 30 counts each carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, while the remaining 21 counts each carries a maximum term of five years. The maximum fine for each count is $250,000. If convicted, the men could be ordered to pay nearly $2 million in restitution to 10 federal, state and tribal agencies.

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