The chief of Poundmaker First Nation, as well as seven others in the Poundmaker First Nation treaty land entitlement fraud case, have entered guilty pleas in provincial court.
Chief Duane Antoine and Former Chief Ted Antoine entered guilty pleas to theft under $5,000. The other six pled guilty to theft under $5000 while band councillors Bryan Tootoosis and Colin Favel as well as Irene Tootoosis, also pled guilty to theft over $5,000.
All were facing charges of theft over $5,000, fraud and breach of trust. However, most of the guilty pleas entered Monday were for lesser offences. In all 49 charges were laid.
In court Monday before Judge Dan O'Hanlon, both Duane and Ted Antoine had faced two charges each of theft and fraud over $5,000 as well as breach of trust by public official and one count of criminal breach of trust. But both pled guilty to single counts of theft under $5,000.
Also pleading guilty to a single count of theft under $5,000 was Norman Antoine, Burton Baptiste and Hickson Weenie. Those three had each faced charges of theft over $5,000, fraud over $5,000 and criminal breach of trust.
Band councillors Bryan Tootoosis and Colin Favel pleaded guilty to one count of theft under $5,000 and also one count over $,5000, as did Irene Tootoosis. Each had faced two counts of theft over $5,000, two counts fraud over $5,000, two counts of breach of trust by a public official and one count of criminal breach of trust.
All eight are due back in provincial court for sentencing Sept. 18. It is expected the other charges will be withdrawn at the conclusion of sentencing.
Not entering pleas Monday was Victoria McMillan, who faces charges for fraud, theft and breach of trust. She has entered pleas of not guilty and is to return to court May 14 at 1:30 pm.
The charges at Poundmaker are in connection to allegations of misspent funds at the reserve dating back to 2004. The misspending is in connection to the reserve's Treaty Land Entitlement fund that was supposed to be set aside specifically for the purchase of land for the reserve.
Cut Knife RCMP launched an investigation around that time with assistance from the F Division's Commercial Crime Section in Saskatoon. The Commercial Crime Section assumed responsibility for the case in 2006, and charges were finally laid in 2011 against the nine Poundmaker individuals.
The accused had been scheduled to start a preliminary hearing Tuesday for a six-day pre-trial. That went by the wayside as a result of the guilty pleas.
Theft under $5,000 carries a maximum sentence of two years in jail. The penalty for theft over $5,000 has a maximum of 10 years.
There has been immediate fallout at Poundmaker First Nation, with opponents calling for the ouster of Chief Antoine and the other accused officials in the wake of the guilty pleas. The opponents had intended to stage a court house rally Tuesday in conjunction with the pre-trial hearing that was scheduled.
Wesley Favel, an elder, former TLE trustee and concerned citizen on governance matters, was one of those calling for the accused officials to resign.
“The customary law governing elected officials of the PCN is clear that disciplinary action should include immediate resignation or removal from office for breach of trust,” said Favel in a news release Monday.
“It is unacceptable in any civil society to allow officials charged with fraud and theft of public funds to continue holding official status as leaders.”