BEMIDJI -- William Blackwell Jr. was sentenced on Tuesday, June 30, in Beltrami County Court for a theft and embezzlement charge stemming from his tenure as treasurer of the Minnesota Indian Education Association.
Blackwell, 44, will serve 60 days in the Beltrami County Jail for one count of theft and embezzlement of public funds after he was charged in March for a scheme involving nearly $140,000 of fraudulent payments to himself between December 2016 and June 2019.
The Minnesota Indian Education Association is a nonprofit organization that has the goal of supporting American Indian students by advocating for culturally relevant curriculum along with supplying scholarships and more.
Blackwell is also the former director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State, a position he resigned from in August 2019.
Judge Annie Claesson-Huseby presided over the case and followed sentencing guidelines provided by the Minnesota Legislature. Blackwell will have an imposition of sentence stayed for a period of 20 years. He must also pay restitution, but the amount was not set at the sentencing. Another restitution hearing will be held at a later date.
Paul Dressen and Petra Neadeau both read victim impact statements from themselves and other members of the MIEA's board of directors to the court via Zoom on Tuesday.
"The theft of funds was not just devastating financially but also a serious blow to Indigenous families, tribal nations, Indian educators and the MIEA itself," Dressen said.
"This crime goes beyond white collar embezzlement, it will affect this generation and the generations to come," he added.
All of the statements read in court said that Blackwell has shown no remorse for his crime.
"He enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle by stealing from marginalized youth," Neadeau said.
Blackwell, who pleaded guilty in late May, is represented by Tom Kuesel, and participated in a pre-sentence investigation, which helps the court determine sentencing. Through his attorney, Blackwell did request he be put on electronic home monitoring for his jail sentence and also that he be allowed to drink alcohol and be allowed in bars.
However, Judge Claesson-Huseby rejected that and said she would reassess on the latter if Blackwell completed and followed recommendations of a Rule 25, a chemical dependency assessment.
"The worst part was the impact on the scholarship fund," Judge Claesson-Huseby said. "That is the fund that has the most impact."
The Bemidji Police Department started its investigation on Sept. 5 after being contacted by officials from the MIEA. Investigators were able to examine records from the MIEA that indicated Blackwell would frequently make withdrawals in small amounts, however, the total theft discovered amounted to approximately $138,579.
Ultimately, Blackwell was confronted about the theft and admitted to making frequent cash withdrawals; he estimated the total was up to $80,000, a release sent from the Beltrami County Attorney's Office said in March.
Blackwell did choose to address the court on Tuesday with a few statements and also said, "There are no words that I can say to make anybody feel better."
Blackwell will turn himself in for his 60-day jail sentence on Sunday, July 5, to the Beltrami County Jail.