September 30, 2014

Woman sentenced in Ho-Chunk fraud scheme

A Black River Falls woman has been sentenced to four years and two months in federal prison for her role in a loan fraud scheme, and a separate bribery scheme involving contracts awarded by the Ho-Chunk Nation. Deborah Atherton pleaded guilty on July 9th to conspiring to submit a loan application, and she stipulated to facts constituting the bribery offense. U.S. District Judge William M. Conley handed down the sentence against the 55 year-old Atherton.

Prosecutors presented evidence that Atherton, with assistance from Timothy Whiteagle, fraudulently obtained over $900,000 in loans by submitting false W-2s. One victim suffered a $500,000 loss when Atherton defaulted on the loans.

Regarding the bribery scheme, the prosecution submitted evidence that during the period from 2006 to 2008, Atherton and co-defendant Timothy Whiteagle acted as consultants for a company that received a $250,000 contract to provide mortgages and housing for tribal members, from the Ho-Chunk Nation’s legislature. The company then paid $57,000 to Atherton, who split the money with Whiteagle. Atherton and Whiteagle solicited the company to contribute toward a Pontiac Firebird to compensate a Ho-Chunk legislator—Clarence Pettibone—for helping the company do business with the Ho-Chunk Nation.

Whiteagle and Pettibone were separately convicted. Pettibone pleaded guilty to a bribery offense and was sentenced to five years in federal prison on July 11th. Whiteagle was convicted of bribery charges, tax offenses, and obstruction following a jury trial in federal court in Madison. He is scheduled to be sentenced on October 24, 2012.

Atherton asked the court for a sentence of probation. The prosecution asked the court to impose a substantial prison sentence, arguing that Atherton’s loan fraud had caused a $500,000 loss and had ruined the victim’s life. The prosecution also argued that Atherton was directly involved in Whiteagle’s scheme to bribe Pettibone.