indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+ indianz.com on soundcloud
phone: 202 630 8439
Indian Law Online Master Degree - University of Tulsa College of Law
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines

printer friendly version
Appraiser warned DOI of undervaluation of Indian lands
Monday, December 6, 2004

The Interior Department was warned that oil and gas companies were cheating members of the Navajo Nation over a year before a court investigator's scathing report into the matter, according to an affidavit filed in court last week.

In a lengthy statement, Deborah Lewis, an appraiser with the Office of the Special Trustee, laid out numerous problems with the way Navajo landowners have been treated. She accused the former chief appraiser for the Navajo region of misconduct for destroying documents needed to ensure that allottees were receiving fair market value for use of their land.

Lewis discovered that Anson Baker, as chief appraiser, allowed oil and gas companies to use Navajo land for just $25 to $40 per rod, a unit of distance. Meanwhile, non-Indian landowners were paid up to 20 times that amount, and even the Navajo Nation received far more for tribal land activities.

Bu when Lewis, a certified appraiser with 10 years of experience with appraisals at the state, tribal and federal level, relayed her concerns to OST superiors, she said she was ignored. Her memos, phone calls and conversation were of no help because key officials "had no background in appraisals" or simply refused to respond, the affidavit states.

"To this date," Lewis said in the affidavit filed last Thursday, "I have never been asked a single question or received a single response to my repeated expressions of concern from the Interior Department's Solicitor's Office, the Office of the Inspector General, or BIA Navajo Regional office senior managers and realty officers about the nature and scope of Baker's intentional document destruction and the routine undervaluation of allottee rights-of-way that I confirmed at Navajo."

The plaintiffs in the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit haven't been successful in their quest to find answers either. In March, they deposed Baker, who has since been transferred to the BIA's Pacific Northwest region to work as the chief appraiser there, but were blocked from asking most questions by a Department of Justice attorney.

SmartMoney.Com, which first reported the existence of the affidavit on Friday, said Baker was due to be questioned under oath again about his actions. The site quoted a source who said the government doesn't want him "up in front of a court [because] they would find that this isn't just Anson Baker, this is systematic."

Yet other officials haven't been entirely forthcoming more than a year after a court report confirmed the undervaluation of Navajo lands that Lewis identified when she started looking into Baker's work in September 2002. Released in August 2003, the report was last major investigation by special master Alan Balaran, a Washington, D.C., attorney who was pressured to resign by the Bush administration.

At the time of the report, Interior officials said Balaran lacked "expertise on appraisal issues." Attorneys for Secretary Gale Norton, have argued that Interior's appraisal process is beyond the scope of the case because it isn't related to an historical accounting. A federal appeals court on Friday rejected a similar defense with regard to information technology.

Appraisal of trust lands used to be handled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs until it was transferred to OST in early 2002 without tribal consultation or a public comment process. Tribal leaders have a long-standing request to reverse the decision but Special Trustee Ross Swimmer has said that will not happen.

Swimmer, in public statements and in a sworn deposition, has also suggested that undervaluation of Indian lands is acceptable due to government "bureaucracy."

"If I were to value the land next door to that Indian land, same land, identical, I would probably put a higher value on non-Indian land," Swimmer said in a June 23, 2003, deposition. "Just a matter of bureaucracy. If I can lease the land next door at a comparable price, then I would do that rather than lease the Indian land."

Lewis, a member of the Navajo Nation, joined Interior in September 1991. According to her affidavit, she has worked in appraisals in all parts of the nation and was often "detailed" to different BIA regions and agencies to alleviate appraisal backlogs.

It was during a detail to the Navajo region from September 2002 to January 2003 when Lewis learned of Baker's actions. In addition to oil and gas companies, she said a billboard company had been using Navajo lands without compensating the owners for 10 years.

The BIA Navajo region has since comer under scrutiny for an agreement its director signed with a telecommunications company to use Navajo land without first compensating the owners. Elderly Navajos, many of whom have limited or no knowledge of English, were asked to sign consent forms without being told how much their land is worth or how much they will receive for use of their land, family members and advocates said.

Related Story:
Fraud in New Mexico (SmartMoney.Com 12/3)

Relevant Documents:
Deborah Lewis Affidavit (December 2, 2004)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust

Related Stories:
Trust fund special master alleges government fraud (04/07)
Special master Balaran resigns from Cobell lawsuit (4/6)
Lamberth defends special master against attack (03/16)
Navajo landowners question BIA agreement with company (10/21)
Retaliation alleged in firing of trust fund manager (09/18)
Court report finds undervaluation of Navajo lands (08/21)
Navajo trust fund manager targeted in internal probe (07/15)
DOI employees falsified Navajo trust data (06/11)
Navajo leaders criticize upheaval at trust fund office (05/09)
Memo: Solicitor's order was 'intimidating' (10/10)
Interior delaying trust reform report (9/6)

Copyright 2000-2004 Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Stay Connected:
On Facebook

On Twitter

On Google+

On SoundCloud
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Native Sun News: Indian lawmakers achieve goals in Montana (8/3)
Lakota Country Times: Skate competition grows at Pine Ridge (8/3)
Mark Trahant: Appoint tribal delegates to serve in US Congress (8/3)
Delphine Red Shirt: Restore Black Hills peak to its rightful name (8/3)
Dana Lone Elk: Lakota grandmothers hold our society together (8/3)
Steve Russell: The Great White Lion Hunter kills only for thrills (8/3)
Steven Newcomb: High court still relying on Christian doctrine (8/3)
Muscogee Nation activist dangled from bridge to stop oil ship (7/31)
Native Sun News: Rapid City mayor denies claim of retaliation (7/31)
Ernestine Chasing Hawk: Rapid City mayor's year of retaliation (7/31)
Brandon Ecoffey: Rapid City continues with tradition of racism (7/31)
Clara Caufield: Northern Cheyenne Tribe leaves people in dark (7/31)
Lakota Country Times: Group seeks to boost Pine Ridge tourism (7/31)
Federal murder charges laid for shooting on Crow Reservation (7/31)
Alex White Plume asks court for permission to plant hemp crop (7/31)
Isleta Pueblo welcomes Secretary Sally Jewell for school event (7/31)
Tribes caught off-guard with mandate from Affordable Care Act (7/31)
Commerce Blog: Secretary Pritzker meets with tribes and youth (7/31)
Tribes in Pacific Northwest 'very worried' about future of salmon (7/31)
Alaska to recognize tribal domestic violence protection orders (7/31)
Moapa Band enters $4.3M settlement for power plant pollution (7/31)
Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Indian Affairs holds first meeting (7/31)
Donald Trump not shy with invoking race when it comes to tribes (7/31)
Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe sees big future with Class II casino (7/31)
Catawba Nation still waiting for answer on casino land-into-trust (7/31)
Last defendant sentenced in theft case at Yakama Nation casino (7/31)
Senate committee examines costs of substance abuse on tribes (7/30)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee delays vote on land-into-trust (7/30)
BIA allows two more New Mexico gaming deals to go into effect (7/30)
Former workers at Choctaw Nation casino plead guilty to theft (7/30)
Inmate charged with murdering Mississippi Choctaw man in jail (7/30)
Native Sun News: Keystone XL Pipeline protest draws big crowd (7/30)
James Giago Davies: Don't judge anyone's depth of Lakotaness (7/30)
Tara Houska: DC rally puts focus on threats to sacred Oak Flat (7/30)
Sarah Sunshine Manning: Native mother left to die in a jail cell (7/30)
Julian Brave NoiseCat: Native issues you aren't hearing about (7/30)
Peter d'Errico: Seeking action after apology from Pope Francis (7/30)
Suspect in custody over deadly shooting on Crow Reservation (7/30)
Shooting highlights racial tensions on Wind River Reservation (7/30)
Pueblo man goes on trial for brutal murder of Navajo woman (7/30)
Another sentence in Chippewa Cree Tribe corruption scandal (7/30)
Oglala Sioux Tribe on track to complete $16.5M nursing home (7/30)
Quapaw Tribe hosts relatives for annual language conference (7/30)
Former police chief for Swinomish Tribe pleads guilty to theft (7/30)
Winnebago Tribe seeks more time to remove old bank building (7/30)
Opinion: Eastern Cherokee leaders kick reporter out of meeting (7/30)
Indian family in Washington still pursuing casino on trust land (7/30)
Red Lake Nation leader supports sales of liquor at two casinos (7/30)
Mohegan Tribe reports increase in profit from casino enterprise (7/30)
Sen. Barrasso introduces another version of land-into-trust fix (7/29)
more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Federal Register | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.