Swimmer admits 'mistakes' by top OST officials

Special Trustee Ross Swimmer admits three of his highest-ranking officials made "mistakes" by repeatedly socializing with a government contractor that was awarded millions of dollars in accounting work.

Donna Erwin, the second-in-command at OST, and brothers Jeff and Doug Lords were close friends with the owners of a local accounting firm. They often met for drinks, meals, parties and rounds of golf, investigative reporter Larry Barker of KRQE reports

"You know, mistakes were made and in this situation, a mistake was made," Swimmer says. He said the socializing gave of the appearance of a conflict of interest.

"A mistake was made every year," Barker reports, citing an annual pilgrimage to Scottsdale, Arizona, for a PGA tournament. With executives from Chavarria, Dunne & Lamey loaded up in an RV, the Lords brothers hit "several golf courses along the way," Barker says.

Back in New Mexico there were "weekly visits" to area golf courses, the report adds.

The conduct of Erwin and the Lords became the subject of a federal investigation. Interviewed on camera, all three admitted they shouldn't have kept socializing with the firm.

"I disciplined these three individuals," Swimmer says in response.

But the punishment amounted to "slaps on the wrist," a government watchdog says. The three officials were required to undergo ethics training but have remained in their posts.

The Interior Department's Inspector General referred the three for potential prosecution. But the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Mexico declined to take action.

Watch the Report:
Larry Barker Reports: Ethics probe blasts Indian trustees (KRQE July 2007)
Note: Requires Windows Media Player.

Inspector General Report:
Allegations Concerning Senior Officials of the Office of Special Trustee for American Indians (May 2006)

Ross Swimmer Memo:
KRQE Investigation (June 22, 2006)

Relevant Links:
Office of Special Trustee - http://www.ost.doi.gov

Related Stories:
Ethics issue behind us, Swimmer tells OST (06/27)
OST one of worst places to work in government (5/1)
OST officials rewarded despite questionable record (1/17)
OST pressed on timetable to complete trust reform (01/09)
Accounting firm defends social relations with OST (07/27)
OST contract tied to favors to top officials (7/25)
OST officials awarded $6.6M contract to friends (7/24)