BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Criminal charges are pending against three senior officials with the Crow tribe who were involved in an attempt last year to oust its chairman and install new leadership, according to court documents and the tribal prosecutor.

Attorneys for the three officials denied the allegations, saying the charges were politically motivated and appeared timed to disrupt the reservation’s upcoming elections.

Arrest warrants stemming from the charges were issued for Crow Vice Chairman Carlson “Duke” Goes Ahead, Vice Secretary Shawn Backbone and tribal Sen. Frank White Clay, prosecutor Daniel Minnis said Thursday.

The criminal counts include official misconduct, theft of financial documents and criminal trespass. Under tribal law, the defendants could face a maximum sentence of one year in jail if convicted on the most serious charges.

The case centers on a power struggle that unfolded on the reservation in January 2019, when opponents of Crow Chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid, Jr. held a recall election to oust him and Secretary R. Knute Old Crow.

In the wake of that election, Goes Ahead and Backbone assumed leadership over the tribe. Their supporters removed dozens of boxes of financial documents and accused Not Afraid of mismanaging the tribe’s money.

Not Afraid and Old Crow were re-installed after Special Judge Eldena Bear Don’t Walk issued an injunction last March that blocked the recall election results.

“It’s not a political issue. It’s an issue of not following the rules,” Minnis told The Associated Press. “It’s akin to the impeachment proceedings currently happening in Congress. You can’t make it easy to pull an ouster. You can’t cut corners.”

Others from the tribe were also involved in the removal of documents, but Minnis said the three defendants had orchestrated the scheme and no one else faces charges.

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