In July 1999, when a sitting U.S. president visited an Indian reservation for the first time in 63 years, Geraldine Blue Bird was in the spotlight.
As he heard about conditions on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, one of the nation's poorest areas, President Clinton expressed amazement that Blue Bird lived with 27 members of her family in her dilapidated four-bedroom house and a trailer out back.
"Don't forget us," she implored.
After that well-publicized visit, donations came in from around the country — including a new trailer for Blue Bird.
Today, that light blue double-wide is boarded up, seized by federal agents. Nearly eight years after becoming a symbol of Pine Ridge's extreme poverty, Blue Bird was sentenced for one of its most common crimes: drug dealing.
Blue Bird, 51, was sentenced in Rapid City on Wednesday to 34 years in federal prison. She was convicted last fall of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a firearm in relation to drug trafficking and conspiracy to distribute marijuana.
She was "pretty much the ringleader" of a conspiracy based out of her home that trafficked an estimated $2 million worth of cocaine from Denver to Nebraska and South Dakota over three years, U.S. Attorney Marty Jackley said.
Twenty-eight people, including family members, have been indicted in the investigation. Most have pleaded guilty and several testified against the leaders, including Blue Bird.
In court Wednesday, Blue Bird minimized her role.
"I'm being held responsible for a lot of things I wasn't involved with," she said. "There are things that I've been accused of and convicted of that I really didn't do."
Teens say they helped with drug operation
At the sentencing for Blue Bird's son, Colin Spotted Elk, in February, a 15-year-old boy who shot and killed another teenager at Blue Bird's home testified that he and other juveniles held money and distributed drugs for Blue Bird and Spotted Elk.
The boy said he helped break up marijuana that Spotted Elk sold and that he cut papers out of magazines that Blue Bird used to repackage cocaine for sale on the street.
Blue Bird's granddaughter Antonia Blue Bird, 26, lived in the old house that was the backdrop for the Clinton visit when she was growing up, and moved back in after her grandmother was arrested.
"I left, and she started dealing drugs and became rich," she said last week.
Antonia Blue Bird said that despite dire poverty — she remembers having popcorn, oatmeal and Kool-Aid for meals — her grandmother still invited people in if they had no other place to go.
"She gave everybody food. She had a really big heart. She was a really nice person," she said. "Maybe that's what triggered it — not having enough money."