Judge sends Ho-Chunk member to prison for bribery

Timothy Whiteagle to serve 10 years in prison

A federal judge has sent a Ho-Chunk tribal member accused of bribing a tribal legislator to prison.

U.S. District Judge William Conley on Wednesday sentenced 61-year-old Timothy Whiteagle of Black River Falls to 10 years in prison and three years of supervised release. Conley also ordered him to pay $162,854 to the Internal Revenue Service.

According to federal prosecutors, Whiteagle served as a consultant for businesses looking to provide check cashing and ATMs at the tribe’s casinos and tribal mortgages.

They said he provided a number of lavish gifts to tribal legislator Clarence Pettibone, including a Pontiac Firebird, campaign contributions and vacations, in exchange for Pettibone’s help steering contracts to Whiteagle’s clients.

On Aug. 1, following a jury trial on bribery, tax, and obstruction charges, Whiteagle was convicted on all 12 federal charges.

Prosecutors said he received more than $3 million from companies wanting to do business with the tribe.

Whiteagle’s attorney, Glenn Reynolds, said the sentence was too harsh and federal prosecutors should have let the tribe handle the case.

Pettibone was sentenced to five years in prison in July.

Whiteagle argued at trial, and again at sentencing, that the money and other things of value that he gave to a Ho-Chunk Nation elected official were not bribes, but merely gifts given in the Ho-Chunk tradition.

In rejecting Whiteagle’s arguments, Judge Conley said, “It is offensive to the court and to the Ho-Chunk Nation to suggest that bribery was part of ‘the Ho-Chunk way’ … Bribery and blatant lying is not the Ho-Chunk Way; it is the farthest thing from the Ho-Chunk Way.”

“This prosecution demonstrates the commitment by this office and the U.S. Department of Justice to vigorously investigate and prosecute corruption in tribal governments,” United States Attorney Vaudreuil said in a statement.