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Former SD tribal police chief accused of double-dipping hours worked, stealing from tribe

Federal prosecutors say Chris Saunsoci, 42, was recording overlapping time punches for two different positions on 139 separate days, which resulted in nearly 600 hours for which he was paid twice. Saunsoci faces up to 370 years in federal prison on the charges.

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Chris Saunsoci stands beside his police cruiser in Wagner in 2019.
Mitchell Republic file photo
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WAGNER, S.D. — The former police chief of the Yankton Sioux Tribe’s law enforcement division is facing up to 370 years in federal prison after prosecutors allege he knowingly falsified his working hours on more than 100 occasions and otherwise stole or embezzled a vehicle and other goods from the tribe.

Chris Saunsoci, 42, of Lake Andes, South Dakota, pleaded not guilty on Nov. 18 in federal court to 18 counts of wire fraud and two counts of theft from an Indian Tribal Organization.

The indictment alleges that between for one year between September 2020 and 2021, Saunsoci recorded time cards that indicated he was two positions at once — one as the Yankton Sioux Tribe police chief and another with Tree of Life, where he served as an assistant coordinator working to address flood recovery issues with a federal grant.

Prosecutors say 139 days of time cards included 590 overlapping hours, when Saunsoci claimed to be working both jobs at the same time of day. At a wage of between $27 an hour — and as much as $30 an hour after a March 2021 raise — as police chief and a pay rate $20 an hour from Tree of Life, Saunsoci is accused of fraudulently receiving between $11,800 and $17,700 in pay for hours he did not work. An exact number was not specified in the indictment.

According to financial records included in the indictment, Saunsoci made 20 wire transfers roughly every other week from a bank in Wagner to a bank in Des Moines, Iowa, which totaled roughly $32,000. Because the money crossed state lines, the indictment said the wire transfers were in violation of U.S. Code.

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The indictment further alleges that, between Feb. 10 and May 16, 2022, Saunsoci willfully embezzled, stole or otherwise transferred the ownership of 2016 GMC Yukon SUV that belonged to the tribe for his own personal gain. He’s accused of doing the same with an undescribed set of goods or assets that also belonged to the tribe months earlier.

In total, Saunsoci faces 20 federal charges in connection with the indictment. If convicted of all counts, he could be sentenced to serve as many as 370 years in federal prison, pay fines up to $5 million and pay restitution ordered by a judge.

Saunsoci was released on bond pending a trial, which has not yet been set.

The investigation, involving 13 federal agencies, was brought forth as part of the Department of Justice’s Guardians Project, which seeks to bring coordination between federal agencies to hold accountable those who are responsible for adversely affecting those living in South Dakota’s tribal communities.

Though Saunsoci is listed on the Yankton Sioux Tribe’s website as the chief of police, a spokeswoman for the agency confirmed John Sully Jr. is serving as acting chief.

Tribal leadership was not immediately available to provide comment on Saunsoci’s indictment or current status in tribal law enforcement.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021 and now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on local news in Sioux Falls. He also writes regional news spanning across the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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