Former Winnebago Tribal Chairman John Blackhawk has pleaded guilty to theft from his tribe’s casino.

As part of a plea agreement, charges of conspiracy and wire fraud against Blackhawk were dismissed.

Blackhawk, who served on the tribal council from 1985 to 2015 and as chairman for nearly 20 years, was one of nine former council members charged with stealing from the tribe’s casino. He is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 4 in U.S. District Court in Omaha.

He is the fifth of the former council members to plead guilty to theft from the WinnaVegas Casino. Since August, Louis Houghton, Lawrence Payer, Thomas Snowball and Charles Aldrich have all pleaded guilty to theft from the casino.

Last month, Chief U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp ordered Houghton and Payer each to serve five years probation and pay $35,000 in restitution. Snowball and Aldrich are awaiting sentencing.

In July 2016, a federal grand jury indicted Blackhawk, Houghton, Payer, Snowball, Aldrich, Darwin Snyder, Travis Mallory, Morgan Earth and Ramona Wolfe. Each was charged with conspiracy, theft from a gaming establishment on Indian lands and wire fraud.

An FBI investigation determined that while on the tribal council, the nine had given themselves raises and bonuses totaling $327,500 directly from the WinnaVegas Casino without approving them at council meetings.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7225 or

On Twitter @LJS_Abourezk.


I'm a Journal Star night editor and father of five.

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