FARGO — A former Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa leader was sentenced Friday, Jan. 3, in federal court to a year of probation for attempting to steal tribal funds.
Wayne Lawrence Keplin wore a gray suit as Judge Daniel Hovland sentenced the former tribal council chairman for trying to steal $12,000. Two other charges — theft of more than $26,000 in tribal funds and a second attempted theft charge related to almost $50,000 — were dismissed.
Keplin was initially charged Sept. 19, 2018, with court documents detailing how a "large building project on the reservation" led to the federal case.
Keplin sued his tribe in 2011 for fees he paid as a contractor on the project, but the lawsuit was ultimately dismissed, court documents said. In a settlement, he was ordered to pay $12,000 in January 2016.
In the fall of 2016, Keplin was elected tribal chairman. He asked the tribal employment rights office director in early 2017 to look into whether he could recoup the $12,000 he paid to the tribe, court documents said.
The director, who told investigators he signed off on the payment because he was afraid he would be fired, recommended returning the money to Keplin without knowing it was part of a settlement, according to court documents.
Keplin was removed as chairman in October 2017 after allegations that he manipulated his position to have his construction company "illegitimately repaid" surfaced, according to a news release.
Keplin signed a plea agreement in late August. He faced up to 10 years in prison for attempted theft.
Keplin's attorney Luke Heck told the judge that aside from the federal case, Keplin was otherwise law-abiding and is unlikely to reoffend. Keplin said there was a lot he would like to say, noting that he wants to live life according to the law.
No restitution was required since Keplin had paid back what he owed to his tribe, prosecutor Matthew Greenley said.