Native leader pleads not guilty to theft

An Alaska Native leader from Juneau pleaded not guilty Wednesday to stealing tens of thousands of dollars from two Alaska Native-run nonprofits he directed.

Robert W. Loescher entered his pleas through his attorney, Julie Willoughby, in Juneau Superior Court before Judge Philip Pallenberg. The judge scheduled a three-day trial to take place later this summer.

Loescher is facing two felony theft charges for allegedly stealing $21,500 between April 2012 and October 2012 from the Alaska Subsistence Defense Fund, which aims to protect subsistence rights, and the Alaska Traditional Foods Security Council, an entity that addresses security of traditional food resources.

Both groups are operated by the Alaska Native Brotherhood/Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand Camp, the Alaska Native civil rights group in Juneau, which created them in 2009 with support from Sealaska Corp. Loescher has since been removed from his posts at those organizations and replaced, according to the Grand Camp’s website.

The Grand Camp has declined to comment on the case since its began seven months ago, citing the ongoing prosecution. Some of the Grand Camp officers, including 1st Grand Vice-President Sasha Soboleff and Grand Treasurer James Llanos, are listed as witnesses for the state. Soboleff and Llanos testified before the grand jury that indicted Loescher last Friday.

Prosecutors have released few details about the case, which has fueled interest among members of the Native community.

“This is something that virtually all tribal members are interested in,” said City and Borough of Juneau Assemblyman Randy Wanamaker, a lifelong ANB member who attended Wednesday’s court hearing. “I’m asked a lot of questions by people I know, and I don’t know anything more than what I’ve been able to glean in the newspaper. So I thought I would come and get some first-hand information.”

Wanamaker worked at Sealaska with Loescher from 1980 to 1990, but said he was not necessarily there to lend him support.

“(I’m here) to observe,” he said.

Loescher worked at Sealaska for 20 years, the last three at its helm. He was appointed as the president and CEO of Sealaska in 1997 and resigned in 2001. Newspaper reports at the time indicated he made a annual salary, not including bonuses, of about $164,000 when he was CEO.

On Wednesday, the 66-year-old appeared at the court hearing in poor health. A woman pushed him around in a wheelchair. He told the Empire said he was legally blind. He again declined to comment on the charges against him.

“Not at this time,” he told the Empire after the hearing was over. “There’ll be another time when I’d be happy to have a good interview.”

Loescher is next slated to appear in court for an omnibus hearing on June 9, then again for a pretrial hearing on July 28. His trial is scheduled for Aug. 4.

If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison for each count of second-degree theft. Since he does not have any prior felonies, he would automatically fall into a presumptive prison sentence of zero to two years to serve.

Loescher has been out of custody, released on his own recognizance, since the case was first brought in Juneau District Court.

Emily Miller can be reached at [email protected].

11/21/2016 - 1:11pm