More trust documents reported destroyed
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MARCH 16, 2001

The plaintiffs in the billion dollar lawsuit against the federal government on Thursday called for an immediate investigation into reports of continued destruction of trust fund documents.

Special Master Alan Balaran, the court-appointed official assigned to help resolve the case, has been investigating since January destruction of records at a number of Federal Reserve Banks and branches. The banks are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Treasury, one of the defendants in the five-year-old lawsuit.

But now that a dozen other Reserve Banks and branches have reported destroying documents related to the accounts of some 300,000 American Indians, the plaintiffs say an expansion of Balaran's investigation is "imperative." A total of 16 banks and branches at locations all over the nation should be included in his inquiry, they said.

Records maintenance has been one of the key sticking points in the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit. In 1999, Judge Royce Lamberth found then Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin in contempt of court after his employees in suburban Maryland destroyed trust fund documents in violation of a court order. Government lawyers subsequently attempted to cover the incident up.

With a Republican administration now in charge, Bush appointee Paul O'Neill has vowed to resolve fully the two-year-old incident and look into other related events. The New York Federal Reserve Bank has hired an independent, outside counsel to address reports of destruction there.

Still, the plaintiffs say O'Neill cannot be trusted. According to a court motion filed yesterday, his lawyers continue to deny the documents which have been destroyed are related to the Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts.

"Plaintiffs cannot rely on the representations concerning the preservation of related documents because the Secretary [O'Neill] and his counsel have repeatedly made wholly unsupported claims and misleading representations to this Court," they said.

Meanwhile, Elouise Cobell, the Blackfeet Nation banker who is one of the five original plaintiffs who initiated the class-action lawsuit in 1996, still says she has yet to receive accurate information about her own assets. In addition to mineral rights, she owns about 2,000 acres of land in Montana but doesn't "have a clue" if the money which the Treasury holds in trust for her is correct.

"That's the problem -- we've never been provided with an accurate list of everything we've been owed," said Cobell.

An estimated $500 million passes through the accounts Cobell and the other IIM trustees hold every year. The accounts were created more than a hundred years ago and have been mismanaged nearly as long, according to independent reports and court rulings.

O'Neill was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Relevant Links:
The Department of Treasury -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

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