Gavin Clarkson, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Photo: US Indian Affairs

Bureau of Indian Affairs official tied to failed loan for Lower Brule Sioux Tribe

A senior Bureau of Indian Affairs official who was hired by the Trump administration to work on economic development issues is linked to a failed loan for the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.

As a consultant, Gavin Clarkson, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation, helped the tribe secure a $22.5 million loan guarantee from the BIA. His role has been confirmed by The Sioux Falls Leader, Human Rights Watch and through documents quoted in an administrative proceeding at the Interior Board of Indian Appeals.

The Office of Inspector General at the Department of the Interior also looked into the failed loan, which is the subject of litigation in federal court. Although only a summary of a report completed in March is posted online, The Argus Leader obtained a copy, which found problems with the way the BIA approved the loan.

"We found no criminal violation, but we did find that [BIA] exposed itself to significant financial risk because it failed to adhere to its own guidelines and heed negative indicators," a summary of the report stated. The Argus Leader did not post the full document, which was obtained only after filing a Freedom of Information Act request.

According to the paper, the report confirmed that tribal officials, attorneys and consultants benefited from the deal. While such payments are not illegal and are considered routine, Clarkson, in a story published in The Argus Leader last August, denied that any "shareholders" benefited.

Clarkson now serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development at the BIA, where he has oversight over the loan guarantee program that was utilized by the tribe. The Argus Leader said he didn't respond to a request for comments about the OIG's report.

The BIA is being sued for failing to guarantee the $22.5 million loan. Turtle Talk, the influential Indian law and policy blog, described the plaintiff as a "vulture fund" in a post about the case.

Read More on the Story:
Investigation concludes tribal leaders received payments in failed brokerage deal (The Sioux Falls Argus Leader October 27, 2017)

Inspector General Reports:
Summary: Guaranteed Loan to Lower Brule Ignored Risk Factors (March 2017)
Audit of Cooperative Agreement No. R95AV60020 Between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe (December 2016)

Human Rights Watch Report:
Secret and Unaccountable: The Tribal Council at Lower Brule and Its Impact on Human Rights (January 2015)

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