Tight on funds tribe probes financial past
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The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma last week said it opened a probe into allegations of financial mismanagement amid a bitter leadership dispute and cash-flow problems.

The tribe hired private investigators to look into potential misuse of federal funds and tribal property. Spokesperson Jackie Warledo wouldn't identify the company, citing privacy reasons.

But she said the probe is linked to the administration of former principal chief Jerry Haney. Ousted in a summer 2001 election, Haney claims he is the legitimate leader of the 10,000-member tribe, and is supported in court by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Warledo, however, denied that Haney is being singled out. "He may have been involved," she said.

The real impetus is allegations of wrongdoing that have been ignored for years, tribal officials insisted. "The BIA failed to assure that federal funds were used to provide services to the people," Wayne Shaw, acting chairman of the tribal council, said in a statement.

In remarks published by The Shawnee News-Star yesterday, Haney admitted there were problems keeping up with the books. "But, as it was, we never did get caught up on those audits," he told the Oklahoma paper.

According to Warledo, numerous complaints have been lodged by members of the current tribal council, whom the BIA does not recognize. "We recently requested an investigation to the U.S. Attorney's office and several of the federal agencies," she said.

"We didn't even get a courtesy response," she added.

A draft financial audit, performed by a private company, uncovered problems, tribal officials said. The report hasn't been finalized but those who have seen it said it substantiates misuse of federal funds.

Due to the ongoing leadership spat, which revolves around tribal members of African descent who were excluded from a key election, the tribe has run into additional financial snafus. When a BIA judge temporarily restored power to Haney, several tribal businesses were shut down.

The current administration, headed by Ken Chambers, said the incident cost at least $3 million. Dozens of people were put out of work until a BIA appeals court reversed the pro-Haney order.

The tribe faces additional problems because the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) has imposed an $8 million fine for operation of casino machines without proper authorization. An appeal has been lodged.

The company taking up the probe is staffed by former FBI and IRS agents, Warledo said. At least two investigators are assigned to the tribe, although finding a way to pay them is a concern, she noted.

"All of the tribe's funding has been cut or frozen or has been escrowed," she said. "We don't have access to much money right now."

Relevant Links:
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