The director of two nonprofit organizations run by an Alaska Native civil rights group in Juneau has been charged with a felony for allegedly embezzling tens of thousands of dollars.
State prosecutors say Robert W. Loescher, a 66-year-old long-standing leader in the Native community and former Sealaska Corp. president and chief executive officer, stole $21,500 from the bank accounts of a legal defense fund that protects subsistence rights and another entity that addresses security of traditional food resources.
Loescher chaired both the Alaska Subsistence Defense Fund and the Alaska Traditional Foods Security Council, which were created by the Alaska Native Brotherhood Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand Camp in December 2009. The Grand Camp, which has roots in fighting discrimination against Alaska Natives, is still the parent organization. Loescher has since been removed from his posts and replaced by an interim chairman, according to the Grand Camp’s website.
The thefts took place in 2012, but weren’t discovered until this year when a new Grand Camp treasurer was appointed and noticed the money was missing, according to an affidavit. The treasurer reported it to the Juneau Police Department in late September.
Officers of the Grand Camp did not comment when contacted Friday, but an affidavit states the group wanted to pursue charges against Loescher. They cited the fact that Loescher met with the board twice about the matter but did not obtain approval for the withdrawals. If he had obtained approval, he would have had to prepare a recommendation to the Grand Camp’s Board of Directors through the treasurer, which he did not do, the affidavit states.
Police reviewed the bank account statements provided and found that Loescher made check and cash withdrawals from First Bank in Juneau totaling $21,515 without authorization, according to charging documents.
Loescher could not be reached for comment. The phone number provided for Loescher in court documents was no longer in service. He was slated to be arraigned in Juneau District Court on Thursday, but the court hearing was vacated at the last minute due to a court clerk’s error. The hearing was rescheduled for Dec. 5.
Loescher is facing one count of second-degree theft, a class ‘C’ felony that can carry up to five years in prison. For first time felony offenders, the crime carries a presumptive sentence of zero to two years in prison.
The Grand Camp’s Vice President, Sasha Soboleff, told police in an interview that Loescher confessed to taking the money, according to the affidavit. Soboleff said Loescher claimed he was justified in taking the funds, but promised to pay it back, the document states. It’s not known what Loescher is alleged to have used the money for.
Soboleff said he couldn’t comment when reached by phone on Friday.
“I’m unable to comment on a pending legal case,” he said.
The Grand Camp raised $10,000 to create the two nonprofits in 2009 in light of the U.S. Department of the Interior conducting an investigation into subsistence management in Alaska. Subsistence management issues pervaded Alaskan politics that year as then-Sen. Albert Kookesh, a Democrat from Angoon, and three others were cited for over-fishing their subsistence sockeye salmon permits. In response, Kookesh called upon all Alaskans to fight for their cultural right to support their subsistence way of life through fishing, hunting and gathering. His criminal case was one of the first the legal defense fund took on, and Kookesh’s case was later dismissed.
Loescher, who is of the Tlingit Nation, Eagle Moiety, has had a long and prestigious career in Juneau, which culminated when he was appointed as the president and CEO of Sealaska in 1997. He worked for the Juneau-based regional Native corporation for more than 20 years, the last three years at the helm. While CEO, he earned a salary of $164,000, not including bonuses, according to newspaper reports at the time. He resigned abruptly without explanation in January 2001.
Sealaska never explained why Loescher resigned, and again on Friday a spokesperson said they could not comment on personnel matters.
It is not known if Loescher is a Sealaska shareholder, and according to Sealaska’s website he is no longer affiliated with the corporation’s board of directors.
Loescher is now semi-retired but is still active in the community. A former City and Borough of Juneau Assembly member, he presently serves as one of the 32 delegates Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska has in Juneau. Earlier this year, he was elected as a CCTHITA tribal court associate judge, and last year he was named CCTHITA’s Citizen of the Year.
According to his biography, Loescher joined the Alaska Native Brotherhood when he was eight years old.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at email@example.com.