Napoleon Mercredi has been found guilty of defrauding the Fond du Lac Denesuline First Nation of close to $290,000.
The decision came down in a Prince Albert courtroom Friday morning.
The offences occurred when Mercredi was chief of the First Nation from 2009 to 2011.
In the end, Justice Gary Meschishnick did not buy defence’s argument that Mercredi had been using the money for legitimate reasons.
In an 86-page decision, Meschishnick says Mercredi stole about $12,000 from an Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada fund for fire suppression services that never happened and roughly $27,000 for travel and other economic development purposes that could not be proven.
Another $29,500 was used to buy a personal vehicle and $17,000 was charged twice to both Fond du Lac and the Prince Albert Grand Council for the same travel expenses.
Mercredi was also found guilty of breach of trust for failing to perform his fiduciary duty as an elected official and theft over $5,000.
However, Meschishnick found Mercredi not guilty of theft for the hundreds of thousands of dollars of Fond du Lac funds he distributed to band members.
The judge also dismissed a charge of breach of trust for the same actions.
In his ruling, Meschishnick says the Crown was unable to prove the recipients were not legitimately in need of the payments.
Outside court, defence lawyer Garth Bendig said it will take some time for himself and his client to digest the verdict.
“Obviously disappointed,” he said. “It was a very lengthy trial, a lot of documentary evidence and a very lengthy decision. I haven’t had an opportunity yet to see what the reasoning is. Our next step is to have a look at that decision.”
Mercredi maintained he acted no differently than other leaders who have overseen the First Nation.
“This is how the First Nation operated, it was not only me – the 12 chiefs,” he said. “If am convicted, the other 12 is convicted for sure if they ever set foot in this building here.”
For his part, Crown prosecutor Darren Howarth said he believes the judge’s decision is a fair one.
“The court did find that he misspent public funds and in that respect the message that I hope gets out there is that if you are a public official and you are using public funds, or band funds, that you use the money responsibly and be accountable for it.”
Howarth would not specify what sentence the Crown will be seeking but did say it could include jail time.
The trial is now adjourned for a pre-sentencing report which will focus on restitution and Mercredi’s ability to repay.
Both sides are due back in court May 22 for sentencing arguments.
Mercredi is not being held in custody.
(PHOTO: Former Fond du Lac Denesuline First Nation Chief Napoleon Mercredi talks to media outside Court of Queen’s Bench in Prince Albert. Photo by Fraser Needham.)