Ex-tribal leader sentenced for bribery scheme in North Dakota

Prosecutors said Randall Phelan accepted more than $645,000 in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for helping a contractor get millions of dollars worth of construction contracts

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Randall Phelan is seen at a White House infrastructure meeting in 2017.
Photo via Gov. Doug Burgum's Twitter account

FARGO — A former tribal leader has been sentenced for his part in a North Dakota bribery scheme.

U.S. District Judge Peter Welte sentenced 58-year-old Randall Jude Phelan, of Mandaree, North Dakota, on Monday, May 15, to five years in prison for soliciting and accepting bribes and kickbacks from a contractor.

Prosecutors said the bribes were in exchange for construction contracts on the Fort Berthold Reservation.

Phelan was an elected representative of the Three Affiliated Tribes’ Tribal Business Council from 2013 through 2020 when he accepted more than $645,000 in bribes and kickbacks, prosecutors said.

He used his position on the council, which is the governing board of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, to help the contractor’s business get millions of dollars in contracts. Phelan also fabricated bids, advocated for the contractor with other tribal officials, and facilitated the submission and payment of fraudulent invoices, according to prosecutors.


Phelan was slated to go to trial for the scheme on Oct. 25, but he pleaded guilty that morning to conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, honest services wire fraud, and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.

Delven Reeves, who served on an economic development corporation board for the tribe’s west segment, is serving 61 months in prison for his role in the scheme. Prosecutors said he received at least $633,000 in bribes and kickbacks.

The contractor, Francisco Solis, pleaded guilty in 2019 to bribery. He was sentenced in February to a year and a day in prison.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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