indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+
ph: 202 630 8439   fax: 202 318 2182
Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines

Printer friendly version
Navajo trust fund manager targeted in internal probe
TUESDAY, JULY 15, 2003

A senior Department of Interior manager who has accused his superiors of retaliation is at the center of an internal report alleging massive destruction of Indian trust documents in New Mexico.

According to the confidential June 10 report, employees at the Farmington Indian Minerals Office destroyed a "large volume" of information related to Navajo oil and gas leases in the Four Corners. A dumpster was filled with documents during a 3-1/2 day period in late March, the review found.

"The estimated volume of the shredded material ranged from between 5 and 24 30-gallon trash bags," the report states.

Despite the allegations contained in the report, issued by a team of employees and not the department's inspector general, there is dispute whether the shredded documents were actually trust records. FIMO employees said they only destroyed copies, not originals, according to the report.

But the Office of Trust Records, which is under the oversight of Special Trustee Ross Swimmer, said the documents, consisting of financial reports and a list of payments made to Navajo allottees, were indeed trust records. Two OTR employees were part of the team that investigated the incident.

At the same time, the report concludes that there was little information lost as a result of the shredding. "Most of the destroyed records can be reconstructed albeit at a substantial expenditure of time and resources," it states.

Contacted as his home in Farmington yesterday, Kevin Gambrell, the director of FIMO, gave only a short statement about the investigation. "I have no knowledge of any destruction of Indian trust records in my office," he said. He declined further comment.

Gambrell has been on administrative leave with pay since May 5, more than a month before the report was completed. He has since filed a whistleblower complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, alleging widespread mismanagement of Navajo trust assets by the Interior.

Navajo leaders in the Four Corners have rallied in support of Gambrell, whom they consider an advocate for the 6,000 Navajo beneficiaries whose $8 million in oil and gas royalties is handled by FIMO. They have called him the victim of retaliation by top officials who want to cover up problems associated with their trust fund accounts.

Nicolette Humphries, a Minerals Management Service spokesperson, said the issue has been placed in the hands of the Johnnie Burton, the director of MMS, the agency to which Gambrell reports. She declined comment about potential action being taken against Gambrell or other FIMO employees, characterizing it as a personnel issue.

But rather than blame Gambrell and his employees, the real problem lies with Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, said Keith Harper, a Native American Rights Fund attorney handling the Cobell Indian trust fund lawsuit. Despite the existence of court orders, he said the department lacks a clear definition of an Indian trust record, a key aspect of its fiduciary duties.

"We think that this isn't a problem on the ground or of individual employees whom the government is trying to scapegoat," he said yesterday, "but rather a problem of the Secretary and her senior officials failing to ensure the orders of this court are adhered to."

Harper added that it was "suspicious" that the target of the report was Gambrell, who has received praise for his work on behalf of Indian beneficiaries. "We just think it's not surprising but that's how they've carried out this entire litigation," he said.

According to the report, it wasn't until April 30 -- a month after the alleged destruction was first disclosed -- that Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles issued a new policy intended to guide employees on the definition of a trust record. The so-called "records tree" was in "draft form" at the time of the probe into FIMO, the report notes.

The report also says the department's Office of Inspector General declined to pursue an investigation of the alleged destruction. The IG recently took MMS to task for falsifying audit records related to a Navajo lease. In that case, the three MMS employees involved were disciplined but not before one received a cash award for "creativity." Interior never informed the Navajo Nation or individual allottees about the incident until months after the IG probe was completed.

OTR, which is based in Albuquerque, has come under scrutiny of its own. Alan Balaran, the special master in the Cobell case, has issued a series of stinging reports about the office's failure to carry out its trust reform duties. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth at one point imposed a restraining order against Interior to prevent OTR from shipping off trust records to a federal repository without proper planning.

In the recently concluded Cobell trial, Swimmer testified briefly about the alleged destruction on July 2, calling it "a very egregious action." He plans to address the issue in the department's next quarterly report to the court.

FIMO is a unique entity within Interior, whose trust management duties are divided among different agencies. Designed as a "one-stop" shop for Navajo beneficiaries, it houses the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and MMS.

Gambrell has been FIMO's director since since its inception in 1996, hired to resolve problems identified by a class action lawsuit, Shi Keyah Association v. Babbitt, brought against the government.

Relevant Documents:
Confidential FIMO Report [Redacted] (June 10, 2003) | Cover Letters (June 2003)

Relevant Links:
Minerals Management Service - http://www.mms.gov
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com

Related Stories:
DOI employees falsified Navajo trust data (06/11)
Navajo leaders criticize upheaval at trust fund office (05/09)
DOI removes director of Navajo trust fund office (5/7)
Trust fund class action sees support (07/03)
Royalty ruling impacts Indian trust (04/30)

Copyright © Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Native Sun News: Tribes walk out of contract support cost meeting (8/29)
Clara Caufield: Northern Cheyenne Tribe spends $2.4M on property (8/29)
Mike Johanns: Retracing steps of great Ponca Chief Standing Bear (8/29)
Steven Newcomb: Racist mascot a sign of deeper problems in US (8/29)
Lauren Jones: Affordable Care Act benefits Native Americans too (8/29)
Gila River Indian Community to see $77.6M from Cobell buy-back (8/29)
Energy boom linked to rise in human trafficking in Indian Country (8/29)
Navajo man heads up Native American Homelessness Task Force (8/29)
9th Circuit hears case over Yakama Nation tobacco manufacturer (8/29)
WAER: ICWA matters handled in 'kangaroo courts' in South Dakota (8/29)
MPR: Red Lake Nation opposes liquor license near dry reservation (8/29)
Tule River Tribe helps remove marijuana operation on reservation (8/29)
Omaha Tribe signs agreement with EPA to improve utility services (8/29)
Las Vegas Paiute Tribe rejected 'gift' from NFL team's foundation (8/29)
KPLU: Spokane Tribe maintains close ties with baseball franchise (8/29)
Opinion: HUD loan program a small step to boost Indian housing (8/29)
DNA study finds distinct population of Native people in Arctic area (8/29)
Tribes closely watching Big Lagoon Rancheria casino land dispute (8/29)
Tohono O'odham Nation to build off-reservation casino in phases (8/29)
State questions Forest County Powatatomi Tribe's slot machines (8/29)
Quapaw Tribe eyes local support for commercial casino in Kansas (8/29)
Native Sun News: Police officers who shot Indian teen get medals (8/28)
Cara Cowan Watts: Laying the groundwork for college scholarship (8/28)
Rudolph Ryser: Indigenous nations need leverage to bring change (8/28)
DOI extends $100M in Cobell buy-back offers on two reservations (8/28)
Cobell buy-backs could return over 38K acres to tribe in Montana (8/28)
Five-year-old Navajo boy sent home from school for his long hair (8/28)
Three charged with murder for death of Mississippi Choctaw man (8/28)
Lummi Nation seeks cooperation after ruling in treaty rights case (8/28)
Artist Gregg Deal takes on Indian mascots for performance piece (8/28)
Sports announcer won't use Washington NFL team's name on air (8/28)
Recruiter from Spokane Tribe's college selected for Peirone Prize (8/28)
California tribes support release of water to benefit salmon runs (8/28)
Southern Ute Tribe invests $2B in big energy production system (8/28)
County hires lobbying firm to oppose federal recognition reforms (8/28)
Tohono O'odham Nation breaks ground for off-reservation casino (8/28)
Cherokee Nation starts construction on casino at Indian allotment (8/28)
Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe responds to opponents in casino suit (8/28)
Jamul Band continues work on $360M casino after victory in court (8/28)
Editorial: Forest County Potawatomi Tribe ups ante in casino feud (8/28)
Ho-Chunk Nation launches outreach effort amid casino expansion (8/28)
Nebraska Supreme Court hears arguments over gaming initiative (8/28)
Tim Giago: Greedy lawyers and government ruin Cobell settlement (8/27)
Native Sun News: Facility in Montana set to house Indian inmates (8/27)
Gerald Gipp: National strategy needed to reform Indian education (8/27)
9th Circuit won't stop repatriation of Kumeyaay Nation ancestors (8/27)
Bill John Baker: Cherokee Nation puts youth to work for summer (8/27)
Gabe Galanda: Academia won't tackle tribal disenrollment issue (8/27)
Misty Lynn Ellingburg: 'Four Winds' is a literary magazine for us (8/27)
Declination rates for Indian Country crime steady for third year (8/27)
DOJ awards grants to address violence in Bakken energy region (8/27)
Another pipeline spills saltwater on reservation in North Dakota (8/27)
Navajo voters oust incumbent president Ben Shelly in primary (8/27)
Once rival factions of Chukchansi Tribe agree to 2015 election (8/27)
Three brothers on the ballot for Passamaquoddy Tribe election (8/27)
Daily Beast: Border Patrol runs free on Tohono O'odham Nation (8/27)
KTOO: Cook Inlet Tribe turns to video game to represent culture (8/27)
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.