May 28, 2018
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Jurors hear closing arguments in tribal funds case

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Defense attorneys told jurors in closing arguments today that whether they find a former governor of the Indian Township Passamaquoddy Tribe and the ex-business manager guilty of misusing funds boils down to whether the two intended to defraud the government or considered transfers of money from one account to another simply loans.

The trial of Robert L. Newell, 65, of Indian Township and James J. Parisi Jr. 45, of Portland on multiple charges, including conspiracy, misapplication of government funds and falsifying documents, wound down this afternoon. The jury is expected to deliberate for about 2½ hours before going home for the night about 6 p.m.

The prosecutor urged them to look at the thousands of documents that have been submitted in the case and to follow the money.

“Robert Newell told the tribal council that as long as there was a federal government, Indian Township would never run out of money,” Assistant U.S. Attorney James Chapman Jr. told the jury. “He treated restricted federal funds as if it was a big pot of money to benefit himself, his family, his friends and tribal council members. The more cash he handed out, the more political power he would have.”

If juors do not reach a verdict today, they will begin deliberations again Wednesday morning and continue until they do reach a verdict, U.S. District Judge George Singal said Monday. The jury has five boxes of evidence — including tribal and bank records and contracts the tribe had with various federal agencies — it can go through as it considers a verdict.

Newell, who most recently served as tribal governor at Indian Township from 2002 to 2006, and Parisi, who served as the tribe’s finance director from 2003 to 2006, were indicted on March 19 by a federal grand jury on 30 charges after a nearly two-year investigation. Their trial began Nov. 3 and has focused on hundreds of documents entered into evidence.

If convicted, each man faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on the more serious charges of misapplication of tribal government funds and misapplication of health care funds. They also could be ordered to pay nearly $2 million in restitution to six federal agencies or departments.

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