Order to distribute trust fund payments sought
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The battle over millions of dollars in delayed trust fund payments continued on Monday with attorneys for 300,000 account holders asking a federal judge to punish top Department of Interior officials if money isn't distributed soon.

Charging that the department has failed to come up with a plan to do so, the plaintiffs asked U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth to order the government to make the payments. The money has been delayed for over a month, they said, denying Indian beneficiaries the money they desperately need.

"Unsurprisingly, the Secretary chooses to play politics and tactical games with individuals' trust monies," the plaintiffs wrote. "Such willful malfeasance should not be countenanced by this court any longer.

Based on historic figures, as much as $15 million to 43,000 landowners has gone unpaid since Lamberth instituted an Internet-related shutdown at the Interior. He ordered a disconnect after a court report detailed security threats to the assets of the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust.

To correct the problems, the Interior is supposed to work with the court to bring its computer systems back online. But an agreement to reconnect the most critical one -- the Integrated Records Management system (IRMS) -- has not been reached.

According to Keith Harper, the Native American Rights Fund attorney on the case, the reason is simple. The government has refused to ask for permission to turn on IRMS temporarily, instead seeking a permanent solution that could take months to implement.

Department officials challenged the claim, saying its team of technology experts has been working day and night to provide assurances to court investigator Alan Balaran that fixes will prevent hackers from entering IRMS. Bureau of Indian Affairs spokesperson Nedra Darling said the Interior submitted a plan to the court on Sunday evening.

The plaintiffs, however, ridiculed the plan as inadequate and asked Lamberth to step in and resolve the impasse. "We want the court to order they take all necessary steps to get checks out as soon as possible," said Harper.

Privately, some government officials involved have suggested an order might be the only way to speed up the process. Prior to testimony in Secretary of Interior Gale Norton's ongoing contempt trial, Lamberth yesterday said he would schedule a hearing to discuss the issue.

Get Court Documents:
Motion (1/7) | Letter (1/7)

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

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