By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The former executive director of the Sequoyah Fund has been sentenced to 27 months in prison after pleading guilty to embezzling nearly $1 million from the organization. Nell Leatherwood, who pleaded straight up (guilty to all charges) to all 50 counts in a Bill of Indictment on charges ranging from embezzlement to theft, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Asheville on Thursday, Dec. 15.
According to Department of Justice officials, in addition to prison time, Leatherwood has been sentenced to three years supervised release; a $5,000 assessment fee; and has been ordered to pay $545,707.55 in restitution.
Following the sentence on Thursday, Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, said in a statement, “As the Executive Director of the Sequoyah Fund, Nell Leatherwood was tasked with supporting the economic development of businesses on the Qualla Boundary and providing much-needed financial services to its underserved populations. Instead, she repeatedly misused her access to the fund’s accounts and diverted its limited resources for personal expenses, taking careful steps to cover up her theft. My office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute public servants who use their positions of power for their own enrichment.”
The Bill of Indictment filed in late 2015 states that between January 2010 and Nov. 20, 2013, “Leatherwood embezzled approximately $900,000 through the use of the corporate SFI (Sequoyah Fund, Inc.) credit card for personal purchases and expenses.”
She pleaded guilty to the following counts:
- Count One – Embezzlement from an Indian Tribal Organization
- Count Two – Theft Concerning Programs Receiving Federal Funds
- Count Three – Access Device Fraud
- Counts Four through Fifty – Making, Uttering, and Possessing Forged Securities
Court records state that Leatherwood, who served as Sequoyah Fund executive director from 2006 until her resignation in November 2013, received a corporate credit card from First Citizens Bank . “Leatherwood misused the corporate SFI credit card to pay for personal expenses,” state those records. “These credit card bills were later paid using SFI funds without the SFI board’s knowledge of the nature of the expenditures.”
The court records also state that she wrote 47 checks to herself totaling $65,000. Of those, the records state that Leatherwood “forged the required signatures of the board members as payers, and then cashed or deposited them for her own personal use.”
According to DOJ records, Leatherwood must report to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to start her sentence once a facility has been designated. Federal sentences are served without the possibility of parole.
The case against Leatherwood was prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Don Gast.