Former North Dakota tribal official pleads guilty to bribery

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A former government official of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation accused of accepting bribes and kickbacks from a construction contractor pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges in North Dakota.

Randall Phelan, 58, of Mandaree, North Dakota, was an elected representative of the governing body of the Three Affiliated Tribes from the end of 2012 to the middle of 2020. Investigators said Phelan used his official position to help the contractor’s business by awarding contracts, fabricating bids and managing fraudulent invoices.

His trial had been scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Phelan and two others were originally charged with receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from the bribery scheme that lasted for eight years on the oil-rich Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. The contractor has pleaded guilty to bribery and has been cooperating with prosecutors. Prosecutors said the business received more than $17 million over the past decade for construction work on the reservation.

Phelan pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, honest services wire fraud and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Sentencing is set for Feb. 22.

Michael Hoffman, an attorney for Phelan, did not immediately respond to an email request seeking comment.