Jury Finds Self-Proclaimed Indian Chief Guilty

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The self-proclaimed leader of a group that claims to be an American Indian tribe was found guilty Wednesday of defrauding immigrants by falsely telling them tribal membership would make them U.S. citizens.

Malcolm Webber, 70, was found guilty Wednesday six charges arising from the unrecognized tribe's efforts to sell tribal memberships. A jury in U.S. District Court in Wichita found Webber not guilty on one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States.

After delivering the verdicts, the jury returned to court to hear arguments in the government's efforts to seek forfeiture of the proceeds from the alleged criminal acts.

Prosecutors argued that Webber, of Bel Aire, marketed the memberships in the Kaweah Indian Nation by telling immigrants the
tribal identification documents could be used to get Social Security cards, U.S. passports, health care benefits and driver's licenses.

Webber's defense attorney, Kurt Kerns, argued that his client had no criminal intent and only sought to help undocumented immigrants become legal residents. He blamed others for overcharging people for tribal memberships.

The defense called no witnesses during the trial and Webber did not take the witness stand in his own defense.

During the trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson told jurors the Kaweah Indian Nation, which is not a federally recognized tribe, is Webber's invention.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs ruled in 1984 that the Kaweah group had no historical link to American Indian tribes. The bureau also ruled that Webber - who calls himself Grand Chief Thunderbird IV - is not an Indian.

Last year, federal prosecutors charged the tribe and 11 people in a 17-count indictment. Charges have been dismissed against the tribe and two defendants, one remains a fugitive and seven others have pleaded guilty to reduced charges.

Robert Visnaw, a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, testified that agents seized tribal enrollment rolls with the names of 13,142 people, plus an additional 2,000 to 3,000 applications that had not yet been processed.

Visnaw, the lead investigator, told jurors that he has not gone through the entire membership roll. But of the 1,000 tribal memberships that he compared with ICE databases, it appeared only 4 percent to 5 percent were lawful residents or citizens.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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