Sun, Oct 07, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Crow leader says infrastructure money ‘squandered’

TRIBAL OVERSIGHT:US Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Tyler Johnson said that an audit was requested to verify work and records related to water systems

AP, BILLINGS, Montana

Crow Indian leaders blamed US officials for “gross mismanagement” of tribal money after investigators said the Montana tribe could not account for almost US$13 million intended for improvements to water systems.

Crow chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid said in a statement on Thursday that he was working to change a system that allows federal and tribal officials to “squander” the tribe’s money.

“Program by program we are cleaning up decades of mismanagement between these governments,” Not Afraid said.

The statement also deflected some blame onto the US Bureau of Reclamation and a tribal subcontractor.

That conflicts with the findings of a US Department of the Interior inspector general’s audit released on Tuesday.

It said the tribe misused US$4.8 million and can not fully account for US$7.8 million paid to subcontractors and vendors.

The audit faulted the bureau for not watching the tribe closely enough and failing to ensure the US$4.8 million went into the proper account.

However, investigators did not accuse the bureau of mismanagement and most of their report addressed accounting problems within the tribe.

Bureau head of public affairs Theresa Eisenman said the agency was working to reconcile the accounting problems and adding financial controls to prevent a recurrence.

The money at issue was intended for upgrades to a water system under a US$460 million settlement reached in 2011 with the US government over the tribe’s historical water rights claims.

The tribe said it intends to repay any costs that are “inconsistent” with the water settlement.

The audit examined contracts dating back to October 2014, including more than two years during which the tribal government was led by former chairman Darrin Old Coyote.

Old Coyote has denied responsibility.

It was the third time in recent years the US government has raised questions about the tribe’s handling of money. Those cases involve a combined US$29 million, including the water funds and money for transportation projects.

Bureau spokesman Tyler Johnson said agency officials requested the audit after they had trouble verifying work and documentation on the water projects.

Johnson said the problems are not anticipated to delay the work, which is expected to be completed in about 2030.

A timeline provided by Johnson said that US$12.8 million transferred to the tribe was put into the wrong account in August last year.

Johnson said the tribe was notified within a day.

In September last year, the tribe moved US$8 million into the correct account, according to the agency timeline.

The remaining US$4.8 million went to “business expenses unrelated to the contracts,” according to investigators.

Tribal officials did not immediately respond to questions about those expenses and Johnson said the bureau has no way to know how the money was spent.

It was unclear what happened to the US$7.8 million distributed to subcontractors and vendors.

Federal officials are trying to determine whether those payments went toward appropriate project costs.

The tribe singled out one subcontractor — Bartlett & West — for alleged, unspecified “invoicing irregularities.”

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