Bear given three years' probation
Embattled Goshute tribal Chairman Leon Bear shared smiles with family Monday after being sentenced to three years' probation for tax evasion.
But his critics left the courtroom angry. They wanted U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins to give Bear jail time.
"The judge just slapped him like a baby on the hand," said tribal elder Violet Allen.
Monday's sentence does not completely end Bear's troubles on and off the reservation.
To comply with his sentence, Bear must repay the tribe $31,542 in duplicate travel payments and other funds. He must also "make peace" with the IRS on all unpaid taxes, penalties and interest, according to Jenkins' order.
The sentencing was part of a plea bargain in April in which he agreed to plead guilty to filing a false federal tax return. In exchange, the federal government dropped five charges of embezzlement and unpaid taxes on income of $192,316.
Detractors who are members of the tribe also plan some comeuppance for Bear on the reservation, located about 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. They say Bear's term expired in November, and they hope to oust him in the next election, perhaps as soon as next month.
The Skull Valley Band has about 70 adult members, many of whom distrust Bear's handling of tribal development projects, including the use of Skull Valley Reservation land for a multibillion-dollar storage site for used nuclear plant fuel.
Margene Bullcreek was among the half-dozen Bear critics who observed the sentencing and said it was too light. She said: "There was no justice here."
She had come prepared to read a statement urging the judge to require Bear to file in-depth financial reports to the tribal council, a governing body comprised of all the adult members. But neither Bullcreek nor other Goshutes were given a chance to speak on behalf of the tribe at the sentencing.
"They made him look like a saint, and he isn't," she said.
Financial "genius" was the term Bear's defense attorney, Joseph Thibodeau, used to describe his client in a pre-sentencing statement to Jenkins. Although he had only graduated high school, Bear has become a father figure to his tribe. He has brought them jobs and lucrative ventures - all on a salary of just $30,000 a year, Thibodeau said.
"In turn, he has produced substantial net - seven-figure revenues for the band," Thibodeau said in a presentencing report to the court.
Leon Bear pushed past reporters and his critics as he walked out of the federal courthouse. But his uncle, Lawrence Bear, praised the judge's decision as "fair."
"It was [Leon Bear's] personal life" that the judge ruled on, he said. "It had nothing to do with the tribe."
A former tribal chairman, he said Skull Valley Goshutes will have an election July 9, although Leon Bear would not confirm that.
l Waste deal inked: The tribe's Executive Committee signs a lease in May 1997 to store up to 44,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste on the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation in Tooele County.
l Bear indicted: In December 2003, Federal grand jury hands down charges against Goshute Chairman Leon Bear. Indictment includes three counts of embezzling $160,952 from the tribe and three counts for telling the IRS he was unemployed while earning $192,316.
l Plea bargain: Bear agrees last April to plead guilty to a single tax charge. Five other counts dropped.
l Bear sentenced: U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins on Monday sentences Bear to three years' probation and restitution. Critics in Skull Valley vow to get Bear voted out of office in an election that may take place as early as next month.