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Three American Indian Tribes Investigated For Stealing Federal Grant Money

(REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

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Thomas Phippen Associate Editor
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Some American Indian tribes appear to have trouble managing government grants.

American Indian governing authorities have been plagued with corruption for years. A 2013 Associated Press review of audits and investigative reports found that out of 551 tribal governments, 124 routinely had complaints filed against them.

The Department of Interior’s Office of the Inspector General released several reports revealing fraud and abuse of federal funds within three American Indian tribes on Nov. 7, the day before the election.

Here are the three tribes the OIG looked at, and the results of its investigations.

Northern Arapaho Tribe (Wyoming)

The OIG determined that a former assistant to the Northern Arapaho Tribe used tribal credit cards to steal “cash advances for herself” and to make personal purchases totaling more than $20,000. A senior official with the tribe also complained the woman paid her own mortgage with tribe money, but the OIG could not verify those allegations. (RELATED: American Indian Takes $20K From Her Own Tribe, Plus Money To Pay Mortgage)

During the investigation into that case, the OIG found a former tribe official, in fact the man in charge of the Federal Grants Program, actually did pay his mortgage with federal money.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Wyoming declined to prosecute either case, but the U.S. Department of Justice could prosecute at the federal level.

Crow Tribe (Montana)

The Crow Tribe received a $2,564,045 federal grant from the Federal Highway Administration to build transit facilities. The tribe instead used the money for general tribe expenses in violation of the grant agreement. A whistleblower within the tribe told the OIG that after receiving the federal funds, “the Crow Tribe used them to offset general fund operations.”

An external audit confirmed that the tribe did not use the grant for the intended purpose of building a travel center, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs will likely recover the federal funds from the Tribe.

The OIG also discovered that a superintendent at Bureau of Indian Affairs who was managing the project was “aware of the misappropriation of funds and failed to take action.” The OIG turned over their investigation to other Bureau of Indian Affairs

Clarks Point, Bristol Bay Native Association (Alaska)

The OIG could not find any wrongdoing in this case. A woman wrote herself checks from the Clarks Point Village Council account exceeding $56,000 between 2008 and 2012. Since she received approval from two council members, however, the OIG determined that the money was merely a supplement to her salary.

The OIG noted that since 1998, the council has used funds from the tribe’s federal grant account. The tribe is allowed to use federal funds for supplement payroll, but such payments are supposed to be invoiced to the tribe, which the OIG could not find in this case. Still, the U.S. attorney in Alaska declined to prosecute.

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