Law

Judge delays contempt decision for chairman of Miccosukee Tribe






Colley Billie, standing between portraits of his father, Sonny Billie (left), and uncle, Buffalo Tiger, both of whom also served as chairmen of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. The tribe's flag is at the right. Photo from National Museum of the American Indian

The leader of the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida has avoided being held in contempt as part of a dispute with the Internal Revenue Service.

In 2013, the IRS issued a summons to Chairman Colley Billie, demanding he provide information about tribal members in order to determine whether they reported per capita payments to the federal government. He refused to turn over the documents, calling the matter one of internal governance and arguing that he lacked authority to release any records without approval of the entire general membership.

Judge Cecilia Altonaga ordered Billie to comply with the summons but he refused in order to pursue the case before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. She will wait for a decision from that court before ruling on a contempt motion.

In the meantime, Billie's attorneys are arguing that H.R.3043, the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act, which became law on September 26, requires the IRS to stop its enforcement action against the tribe. The Department of Treasury must develop new training for agents who work in Indian Country, an effort that will be overseen by a new tribal advisory committee.

"It's time for the courts to step back," attorney Yesenia Lara told Judge Altonaga, The Daily Business Review reported. "The IRS has infringed upon the sovereignty of Miccosukee tribe to force this chairman to go against his tribe."

Section 4 of the new law states:
(a) Temporary Suspension of Examinations- The Secretary of the Treasury shall suspend all audits and examinations of Indian tribal governments and members of Indian tribes (or any spouse or dependent of such a member), to the extent such an audit or examination relates to the exclusion of a payment or benefit from an Indian tribal government under the general welfare exclusion, until the education and training prescribed by section 3(b)(2) of this Act is completed. The running of any period of limitations under section 6501 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 with respect to Indian tribal governments and members of Indian tribes shall be suspended during the period during which audits and examinations are suspended under the preceding sentence.

(b) Waiver of Penalties and Interest- The Secretary of the Treasury may waive any interest and penalties imposed under such Code on any Indian tribal government or member of an Indian tribe (or any spouse or dependent of such a member) to the extent such interest and penalties relate to excluding a payment or benefit from gross income under the general welfare exclusion.

The IRS claims members of the tribe failed to report $170 million in per capita payments as income. Billie appears to be arguing that the payments were part of the tribe's general welfare programs, an issue addressed by the new law.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case in federal court and from the case in the 11th Circuit, US v. Billie.

Get the Story:
Judge Delays Action on Contempt Motion Following Change in Tribal Law (The Daily Business Review 12/18)

Related Stories:
Chair of Miccosukee Tribes faces contempt over dispute with IRS (12/09)
Judge threatens chairman of Miccosukee Tribe with daily fines (11/05)
IRS requests contempt order for chairman of Miccosukee Tribe (10/31)