Norton faces more scrutiny on trust fund
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Citing the status of trust reform and the ongoing class action suit aimed at correcting years of financial mismanagement, a federal judge has asked a court official to continue investigating the Department of Interior for at least another year.

In an order filed in federal court yesterday, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said he wants to extend the term of his court monitor Joseph S. Kieffer III. A former military intelligence specialist, Kieffer has been reporting on efforts to fix the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust for a year.

The role would continue unless the Bush administration cites, and Lamberth accepts, serious objections. Attorneys representing 300,000 Indian beneficiaries whose $500 million in annual assets are at the heart of the lawsuit support an extension of Kieffer's term, they told Indianz.Com.

Kieffer was appointed to his post one year ago this month after an internal memo raised doubts about the progress of the federal government. Dom Nessi, the Bureau of Indian Affairs former chief information officer and a former manager of a trust reform project, wrote in a memo that efforts were "slowly, but surely imploding."

As a result, the plaintiffs wanted Lamberth to consider holding contempt proceedings. But to stave off charges, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and her defense team "threw open the doors," as one government attorney later put it, and welcomed Kieffer's involvement in the debacle.

The mood changed significantly as Kieffer produced reports highly critical of both the Clinton and Bush administrations. Every major aspect of trust reform, from the failure to move forward with an historical accounting owed to the beneficiaries to the status of a $40 million trust accounting now put on hold, was covered.

But in a huge fumble, the government's defense team never raised major objections to Kieffer's work. Although the attorneys responsible were later fired from the case, their actions came back to haunt the Interior as the reports formed the basis for four of five contempt charges laid against Norton and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb.

Norton risks much the same in the future should Kieffer stay on. Also, the plaintiffs have asked Lamberth to appoint a receiver for the IIM trust, a position Kieffer could easily fill if he continues to work for the court.

Kieffer's $250-an-hour rate is being footed by the government. His monthly bills have reached $40,000 to $50,000, depending on how much time he committed to the case.

Lamberth has yet to issue his findings on the charges. The 29-day contempt trial concluded February 21.

Comments or objections on Kieffer's renewal are due April 11, Lamberth said in the order.

Related Documents:
1st Report: Historical Accounting (7/11) | 2nd Report: TAAMS (8/9) | 3rd Report: BIA Data Cleanup (9/17) | 4th Report: Trust Reform (10/16) | 5th Report: Historical Accounting (2/1) | 6th Report: 8th Quarterly Report (2/1) | Appointment of Court Monitor (4/16)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -
Trust Reform, NCAI -

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