Ex-tribal officials guilty

Posted Nov. 20, 2008, at 10:21 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:16 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A federal jury Thursday found a former Indian Township Passamaquoddy tribal governor guilty on all but one of 30 charges, including misapplication of tribal and federal funds and making false statements to government agencies. The jury of 11 women and one man found the tribe’s ex-finance manager guilty on 11 of 21 similar counts.

View a .pdf document of the Jury Verdict form for Robert Newell.

View a .pdf document of the Jury Verdict form for James Parisi.

Robert L. Newell, 65, of Indian Township and James J. Parisi Jr., 45, of Portland appeared stunned by the verdict delivered about 8 p.m. after the jury deliberated for nearly 24 hours over three days. Both men bowed and shook their heads as a federal court clerk read the jury’s decision.

The jury heard testimony from witnesses for 10 days. It began its deliberations about 6 p.m. Tuesday after hearing closing arguments from both sides and instructions from U.S. District Judge George Singal.

The jury had to reach a unanimous decision on each count to find Newell and Parisi guilty. Every charge included specific dates, the amounts of money allegedly misapplied and the agencies involved.

Both men were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud and intentionally misapply tribal government funds and health care benefit funds and guilty of the misapplication of those funds between Oct. 1, 2004, and Sept. 30, 2006. Newell was found guilty on all of the charges against him of submission of false claims while Parisi was found guilty of four of 11 similar counts.

After the jury was dismissed, the men spoke quietly with their attorneys, then hugged family and friends while they waited for the clerk to prepare paperwork for their signatures.

Both men remain free on bail pending sentencing. Sentencing dates are not expected to be set until after the first of the year.

Newell said after the verdict that he would appeal the jury’s verdict.

“This is not going to stand,” Newell said. “This decision is incorrect.”

He took the stand in his own defense Monday. The former governor said that he moved money from one account to another to pay for general assistance on the reservation, but claimed he was following the mandate of his tribe to lower the unemployment rate that averaged between 30 percent and 60 percent a year on the reservation.

Newell also said after the verdict that even though there were no American Indians on the jury, many would speak on his behalf at his sentencing.

Parisi did not testify. His attorneys argued that he had no authority to act on his own and moved money only at Newell’s direction.

Parisi’s attorney, Jay McCloskey of Bangor, said that he and his client would be discussing what to do next.

“We accept the jury’s verdict, but we respectfully disagree with the results,” McCloskey said. “We will be considering our options.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Chapman Jr., who prosecuted the case, said he was pleased with the verdict. The federal prosecutor added that his office would issue a press release about the case today.

“The jury obviously considered the evidence very carefully,” Chapman said as he left the courtroom.

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, 2008, by a federal grand jury after a nearly two-year investigation.

Their trial began Monday, Nov. 3, and has focused on thousands of documents from bank records to internal tribal papers to contracts the tribe had with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other government agencies.

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 and-or departments.

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