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New charges filed against head of ‘sham’ tribe formed at an Arby’s

SHARE New charges filed against head of ‘sham’ tribe formed at an Arby’s

VERNAL — A Uintah County man who had his "tribe" declared a fraud by a federal judge has been charged with helping a fugitive from Iowa elude capture and with possessing child pornography.

Dale Nolen Stevens, 69, was arrested Thursday by Uintah County sheriff's detectives on a warrant issued for charges of obstruction of justice, sexual exploitation of a minor and forgery.

Stevens is accused of helping Russell Eugene Blessman— an Iowa man wanted for questioning in a child sex abuse investigation — come to Utah in October and of hiding him on his land near Vernal. Investigators also allege that Stevens used his computer to create a fraudulent tribal identity for Blessman.

"Mr. Stevens used his position as the chief of the Wampanoag Tribe to hide Mr. Blessman and give him new identification and a new false birth certificate," detective Leonard Issacson wrote in an affidavit filed to obtain the warrant for Stevens' arrest.

Stevens has claimed to be the chief of the Wampanoag Nation, Tribe of Grayhead, Wolf Band. The group — formed in a Provo Arby's restaurant in 2003 and not related to the federally-recognized Wampanoag Tribe in Massachusetts — was declared "a complete sham" by U.S. District Court Judge Stephen P. Friot in April. The judge's ruling was related to fraudulent civil judgments levied by Stevens and three other men against officials in Uintah and Duchesne counties.

Blessman was arrested in October by members of the U.S. Marshal's Service Joint Criminal Apprehension Team and the state Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force following a tip that led them to a motel in Heber City. At the time of his arrest, Blessman had Wampanoag documents in his possession bearing Stevens' signature, Isaacson said.

During interviews with Blessman following his arrest, Isaacson said investigators were told Stevens had child pornography on his laptop computer. Blessman also told authorities Stevens had expected him to bring his underage daughter to Utah with him so Stevens could marry her, and that Stevens had arranged to marry another underage girl in exchange for half a cooler of energy bars, according to the detective.

Stevens acknowledged the energy bar trade during a Jan. 17 preliminary hearing on charges that he'd burglarized the trailer home where the girl was staying and stood over her in his underwear as she slept.

"That's the way Indians do things ... if they're living under their old ways," he said of the arrangement with the 12-year-old girl's mother, who also testified about the trade. "I became her guardian, put it that way, I became her guardian."

In his affidavit, Issacson said a search of Stevens' laptop revealed several images of child pornography as well as a video showing a prepubescent girl dancing without any clothes on.

"The creation date of the video predates the flight from Iowa and the arrival of Russell Blessman to Utah," Issacson wrote.

A two-day jury trial on the burglary and attempted lewdness charges against Stevens is set to begin Aug. 12. Stevens has asked to serve as his own attorney in both cases and has challenged the state's jurisdiction over him, continuing to claim that he is an American Indian and that the alleged crimes happened on tribal ground. He remains in the Uintah County Jail.

E-mail: geoff@ubstandard.com