REGIONAL- A former Fortune Bay Resort Casino employee has been sentenced to eight months in prison and ordered to repay $315,739.87 she admitted to embezzling over seven years while working as a …
REGIONAL- A former Fortune Bay Resort Casino employee has been sentenced to eight months in prison and ordered to repay $315,739.87 she admitted to embezzling over seven years while working as a front desk supervisor in the hotel.
Jennifer Lynn Boutto, 32, of Orr, was charged with one count of embezzlement and theft of Tribal funds, a federal offense which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a possible fine. In issuing the sentence on Monday, U.S. District Judge Eric C. Tostrud also imposed one year of supervised release in addition to the prison term.
Bois Forte Tribal Chairwoman Cathy Chavers applauded the decision in a statement released by the Minnesota U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“Far too often crimes are committed against tribes in Indian Country and the punishment is a slap on the wrist,” Chavers said. “Boutto serving time in federal prison reinforces the fact that crimes like these won’t be tolerated. We are relieved to put an end to this matter and are now able to breathe a bit easier seeing justice done. Now our community can begin the process of healing and ensuring this never happens again.”
Chavers also noted in a social media post that the tribe has already received most of the money back through its insurance company, minus the deductible, which Boutto will have to pay to the tribe. Boutto will pay the balance of the restitution to the insurance company.
Boutto issued false refunds for invoices of Fortune Bay customers after they had checked out and then retrieved the cash for herself from the Fortune Bay vault. The average refund increased over time, from $28 at the outset of the scheme in 2013 to $531 in 2019, a year in which she took over $88,000, according to court documents. In total, she issued 2,994 false refunds for $315,739.87 during the seven-year embezzlement scam.
Boutto was apparently motivated to embezzle from Fortune Bay “out of desperation to pay medical bills and make ends meet,” according to court documents, but the average amount of funds she embezzled per year, $45,105, far exceeded calculated annual medical expenses of $15,600, the government said.
“Although financial circumstances may have motivated Boutto’s actions—again, not an excuse—it simply does not account for the full scope of her misconduct,” one document filed by the government said. In describing the final 18 months of Boutto’s fraudulent activity, the government reported that, “Boutto’s bank records reveal spending inconsistent with desperation, a conservative sampling of which includes $2,080 on entertainment, $8,426 on health and beauty services, $1,381 on hotels, $1,800 on liquor, $2,741 for motorcycle services, $5,600 on Amazon purchases, $3,692 on iTunes purchases, $4,620 on other retail purchases, and $1,514 at restaurants. Boutto also appeared to pay $373 per month for her cellphone and maintained a SiriusXM subscription. An additional $22,457 was either withdrawn in cash or transferred to other accounts or individuals. This spending is in addition to other recreational activities enjoyed by the Bouttos, including hunting, fishing, and recreational vehicles.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office had recommended an 18-month prison sentence and two years of supervised release for Boutto, according to court records. The recommendation was based on U.S. Sentencing Commission Guidelines, with allowances made for Boutto’s acceptance of responsibility and cooperation with the investigation. Boutto was also subject to a fine ranging from $7,500 to $75,000, but both parties agreed that a fine was “not appropriate” given the amount of restitution involved.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office also addressed a victim impact statement filed by the Bois Forte Band in its sentencing recommendation.
“The statement submitted by the Bois Forte Band highlights the broad distrust sown by Boutto’s actions and the deep impact her actions had on the Tribe. It also speaks to how Boutto’s crimes directly affected the Tribe’s ability to provide medical services to its own members. This heightens the need to craft a sentence that reflects the seriousness of this offense and provides just punishment for it.”
Boutto’s attorney apparently appealed for no prison term, although a defense document detailing that position appears to have been sealed by the court. Based on the government’s response, Boutto’s attorney argued that “a probationary sentence is sufficiently severe, that a sentence based on deterrence is not necessary, and that such a disposition would be consistent with comparable cases.”
The Timberjay discovered precedent for both positions in additional online research.
In April 2021, Cayle Leigh Klinekole was convicted of embezzling $194,573 from the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Intertribal Land Use Committee, but received no prison time. She was sentenced to five years’ probation, including a year of home confinement, 50 hours of community service, and restitution payment.
In September in South Dakota, Jordyn Juanita Kirk received five years’probation and no prison time for embezzling $14,463.80 from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribal Court. She was also fined $3,000 and ordered to repay the funds.
Conversely, in a 2016 case in Oklahoma, Carma Lynn Elliot was sentenced to 18 months in prison, 36 months of supervised release, fined $100, and ordered to pay restitution for embezzling $585,397 from the Choctaw Nation.
Fredrick Strohm was sentenced this past March to 18 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution for embezzling nearly $200,000 over four years as office manager for Cherokee Broadband Enterprises, an entity of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina.
The longest prison term discovered by the Timberjay was handed down in May 2020 to Roland Robert Hawk Sr., former elected treasurer of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. Hawk was considered the ringleader among six tribal leaders, including two tribal chairs, who pled guilty to embezzling nearly $1 million total from the tribe. He was sentenced to 42 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution of $375,762.
In the Boutto case, the government argued that unique circumstances made an 18-month prison sentence appropriate, noting that deterring such crimes in the future was essential.
“The message cannot be that non-Tribe members can unilaterally engage in the equivalent of interest-free financing at the expense of the Tribe,” the government said. “And, more generally, it remains that an employee cannot simply steal from their employer to finance solutions to subjective need.”
Judge Tostrud ultimately affirmed the U.S. Attorney’s position, although using the option of judicial discretion in sentencing to reduce the recommended terms for prison and probation.
According to information from the U.S. Department of Justice, restitution orders are effective for 20 years following the conclusion of a prison term. The U.S. Attorney’s Office Financial Litigation Unit ensures that the defendant is making monthly restitution payments to the U.S. Clerk of the Court.
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