A woman who embezzled over $300,000 from the Skagway Traditional Council was sentenced to serve 18 months in prison.
Delia Commander, 64, of Oregon pleaded guilty on one count of embezzlement and must pay almost the entire sum of $297,731 in restitution to the council, according to the office of Alaska’s District Attorney.
Commander was the tribal administrator for the Skagway tribe from 2008 to 2014. She was responsible for managing finances, grants, contracts, housing and more.
According to the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Aunnie Steward, Commander successfully embezzled more money than in any other tribal fraud case she’s worked on.
“The Defendant plead guilty to embezzling $300,000, which is the equivalent of two full years of operating budget,” Steward said.
The tribe receives about $150,000 from the Bureau of Indian Affairs every year. Commander used some of that money to pay for college tuition, credit cards, cash advances at casinos and a trip to Hawaii.
Commander applied for grants from entities like the EPA for additional funds, and didn’t follow up on reporting.
The theft was discovered when she abruptly resigned three years ago as the council began to press for financial documentation and question her frequent absences.
Court documents say sentencing was difficult to decide in Commander’s case, since she was a “grandmother” with “no prior criminal history” and “a master’s degree.”
But prosecutors felt a significant sentence was justified partly to deter others from tribal fraud.
“There are over 200 federally recognized tribes in Alaska, most of them receiving some federal funding,” Steward said. “That system, in these remote places, and these small organizations, relies heavily on trust. Trust that the organizations and the people running them will spend it in the ways that they’re meant to be spent.”
Skagway Traditional Council still is working on repairing the financial damage.
Their new tribal administrator, Sara Kinjo-Hischer, said by email they were grateful it was over, and they can move forward.