Two women sentenced for embezzlement from Savoonga tribe
After nearly a year of rescheduling, a former tribal coordinator and a secretary for the Native Village of Savoonga were sentenced on federal charges for stealing more than $83,000 in federal funds meant for roadwork and repair of damages from a severe winter storm in 2010.
Sylvia Toolie, 60, and Peggy Akeya, 57, sisters, were both formally charged in November 2016 with two counts of embezzlement of federal agency funds received by a tribal government.
Both women entered plea agreements at the time of their arraignments. At the time, Chief U.S. District Judge Timothy M. Burgess explained to Toolie and Akeya that it was his job to review the sentencing guidelines and review the plea agreements submitted by their attorneys and decide whether to deliver possible sentences of up to five or 10 years or to prescribe lesser punishments.
On Sept. 13 Burgess sentenced Toolie, former Savoonga tribal coordinator employed by Kawerak Inc., to serve eight months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. During Toolie’s sentencing Burgess underscored the “exponential impact” that these crimes have had on Savoonga. Burgess told the court that he chose this sentence in part to send a clear message that stealing tribal or public funds will be met with “significant [and] serious consequences that include going to jail.”
Absent Kawerak’s prior approval, Toolie was not permitted to be paid by the tribe at all. Toolie used her position of trust to obtain numerous unauthorized checks from the tribe. In all, Toolie tried to fraudulently obtain roughly $83,000 of the tribe’s funds, and actually pocketed $69,563.07, according to court records.
Akeya was sentenced Sept. 12 to a term of five years’ probation, three months’ home confinement, and 120 hours of community service. Akeya used her elected position as secretary for the tribe’s governing council and unofficial bookkeeper to sign numerous unauthorized checks to herself and others that were drawn on the tribe’s bank accounts. Akeya tried to fraudulently obtain over $25,000 in funds, and actually obtained $14,855.81 according to charges.
Burgess also ordered Akeya to record statements for a public service announcement to raise awareness of the consequences that follow from embezzling tribal government or other public funds.
The sisters are required to pay back all of the money they stole.
Several years ago, Kawerak Inc. identified concerns over the management of Savoonga’s funds and worked with investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General.
Kawerak Inc. is a federally recognized Indian tribal organization based in Nome that serves as the regional nonprofit corporation. It provides services to 20 federally recognized tribes in the Bering Straits Region, including the 720 residents of the Native Village of Savoonga.