High-Dollar Damages May Threaten Plea Deal in Running Wolf Case
A felony case involving theft from the Rocky Mountain Indian Chamber of Commerce took an unexpected turn in Denver District Court when a major civil lawsuit surfaced at the last minute, angering a prosecuting attorney and possibly thwarting a plea deal.
Josh Running Wolf, Blackfeet, former Chamber director, pleaded guilty to felony check forgery and theft charges in July and was to have been sentenced October 11 after submitting $30,000 in restitution to keep the felony off his record and to avoid prison time.
But the unexpected civil suit filed by the Chamber seeking $270,000 from Running Wolf would “set Running Wolf up to fail,” said Joe Morales, chief deputy district attorney for economic crimes.
The deputy DA said Running Wolf would be unable to make monthly payments to satisfy a $270,000 debt along with other monthly obligations, including child support, and as a result would end up going to jail, benefitting no creditors.
Runningwolf had brought a check for $30,000 to the court system October 11 as part of the prearranged plea agreement, but it was withdrawn in light of further litigation and a possible jury trial.
The deputy DA said he had been made aware of the civil suit just shortly before Running Wolf’s current court appearance, at which time Running Wolf had expected to be sentenced according to the plea agreement that included the $30,000 restitution.
A conviction on the theft charge could have carried a penalty of 4 to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of at least $3,000; the forgery charge can carry a sentence of 1 to 3 years and a fine of at least $1,000. Both sentences and fines can be higher or lower, depending on circumstances.
Dee St. Cyr, Winnebago and chair of the Chamber’s board of directors, said the board didn’t understand why the civil lawsuit was a surprise to officials since a staff member of the DA’s office was present at Running Wolf’s arrest in January when a civil suit was discussed.
“We didn’t understand the system,” she said. “An attorney advised us and since the DA’s representative was present at his arrest, the DA should have known.”
Running Wolf’s attorney, W. Harold Flowers, who had also been caught off guard by the civil lawsuit, asked to withdraw as his counsel, a request approved by the court, which gave Running Wolf 60 days to find another lawyer.