Ex-Oglala Sioux Leader Gets 22 Months for Embezzling from Tribe

Posted on: June 21, 2024, 12:29h. 

Last updated on: June 21, 2024, 12:29h.

A former leader of South Dakota’s Oglala Sioux has been sentenced to 22 months in a federal prison for embezzling from the tribe.

Julian Bear Runner, Oglala Sioux, Prairie Wind Casino, embezzlement
Julian Bear Runner in full ceremonial warbonnet. He was elected as the tribe’s second-youngest president in November 2018, but his brief tenure was dogged by controversy. (Image: Julian Bear Runner/Facebook)

Julian Bear Runner, 39, was tribal president for just over a year, between January 2019 and January 2020. But during that time, he siphoned off more than $80K from the tribe, which operates the Prairie Wind Casino on its Pine Ridge reservation. He has been ordered to pay $82K in restitution to the tribe.

Bear Runner was found guilty of wire fraud, larceny, and embezzlement after a three-day jury trial in April 2024. The former tribal president used fraudulent vouchers to receive checks from the tribe for work-related trips that were never taken. He used tribal funds as a piggy bank, “cashing the checks and spending the money at the Prairie Wind Casino,” according to prosecutors.

‘Scheme and Artifice’

On his November 2018 election, Bear Runner became the second-youngest leader of the tribe. But he engaged in “scheme and artifice to defraud the Oglala Sioux Tribe and enrich himself,” immediately after taking office, according to court documents. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in September 2022.

Beginning in January 2019 and continuing through January 2020, Bear Runner began scheduling official travel and receiving checks for related costs when in fact he was not traveling or incurring the costs of airline flights, hotels, or food,” according to the indictment.

“Despite knowing he had not traveled and that he was not entitled to the travel funds, Bear Runner fraudulently submitted vouchers claiming he was going to travel and was entitled to travel funds,” it read.

Checkered History

Bear Runner’s short tenure was dogged by controversy. Despite campaigning to retain the alcohol ban in the reservation and its casino – Pine Ridge is the only dry reservation in South Dakota — he was arrested in May 2020 for drunk driving and assault.

In July 2020, he issued a COVID-19 lockdown order without informing the tribal council, then became unreachable so the order could not be explained. He was suspended from office for 30 days.

A month later, he was placed on unpaid leave after he was accused of coercing a 17-year-old male into sex, an allegation he denied. He narrowly survived impeachment but was voted out in November 2020.

Days later, he was arrested for fighting private security at the Cheers Sports Bar & Casino at the Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City.