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A New Town woman who embezzled thousands of dollars while working as an administrative assistant for an Indian tribe said she stole the money to buy prescription pain pills.

In October, 33-year-old Melissa Mandan pleaded guilty to one count of federal program theft after reaching a plea deal with federal prosecutors. The indictment says Mandan stole more than $40,000 from the MHA Nation Infant and Toddler Program.

At her sentencing hearing on Monday, assistant U.S. attorney Jonathan O'Konek recommended Mandan be sentenced to time served and a year of supervised released. He also recommended she pay about $44,000 in restitution.

O'Konek said Mandan admitted to stealing the money because she was addicted to prescription drugs.

"She was essentially taking money so that she could pay for pills so she could support her habit, however, that doesn’t change the fact that she should be held accountable," O'Konek said.

Assistant federal public defender Christopher Bellmore agreed with O'Konek's sentencing recommendation, and said Mandan became addicted to prescription opioids in 2015, after she suffered a back injury.

He said Mandan checked herself into an in-patient treatment facility before the case began, and she's remained sober since December 2017.

"She has zero criminal history other than this case," Bellmore said.

On Monday, Mandan apologized for stealing the money and admitted she took advantage of people who trusted her. She said she worked for nine years as an administrative assistant for the tribe's program, which she used for her advantage.

"It's not who I was," Mandan said.

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland upheld the sentencing recommendation and ordered Mandan pay $44,015.88 in restitution to MHA Nation.

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(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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Education and Health Reporter