BILLINGS (AP) — Crow Indian leaders blamed U.S. officials for “gross mismanagement” of tribal money after investigators said the Montana tribe couldn’t account for almost $13 million intended for water system improvements.
Crow Chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid said in a Thursday statement that he was working to change a system that allows federal and tribal officials to “squander” the tribe’s money.
“Program by program we are cleaning up decades of mismanagement between these governments,” Not Afraid said.
The statement also deflected some blame onto the Bureau of Reclamation and a tribal subcontractor.
That conflicts with the findings of a U.S. Interior Department inspector general’s audit released Tuesday. It said the tribe misused $4.8 million and can’t fully account for $7.8 million paid to subcontractors and vendors.
The audit faulted the Bureau of Reclamation for not watching the tribe closely enough and failing to ensure the $4.8 million went into the proper account. However, investigators did not accuse the bureau of mismanagement and most of their report addressed accounting problems within the tribe.
Bureau of Reclamation Public Affairs Chief Theresa Eisenman said the agency was working to reconcile the accounting problems and adding financial controls to prevent a recurrence.
The money at issue was intended for water system upgrades under a $460 million settlement reached in 2011 with the U.S. government over the tribe’s historical water rights claims.
The tribe said it intends to repay any costs that are “inconsistent” with the water settlement.
The audit examined contracts dating back to October 2014, including more than two years during which the tribal government was led by former Chairman Darrin Old Coyote. Old Coyote has denied responsibility.
It’s the third time in recent years the government has raised questions about the tribe’s handling of money. Together those cases involve a combined $29 million, including the water funds and money for transportation projects.
Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Tyler Johnson said agency officials requested the audit after they had trouble verifying work and documentation on the water projects. Johnson said the problems are not anticipated to delay the work, which is expected to be completed around 2030.
A timeline provided by Johnson said $12.8 million transferred to the tribe was put into the wrong account in August 2017. Johnson said the tribe was notified within a day.
In September 2017, the tribe moved $8 million into the correct account, according to the agency timeline.
The remaining $4.8 million went to “business expenses unrelated to the contracts,” according to investigators. Tribal officials did not immediately respond to questions about those expenses and Johnson said the Bureau of Reclamation has no way to know how the money was spent within the tribe.
It’s unclear what happened to the $7.8 million distributed to subcontractors and vendors. Federal officials are trying to determine if those payments went toward appropriate project costs.
The tribe singled out one subcontractor — Bartlett & West — for alleged, unspecified “invoicing irregularities.” The Topeka, Kansas-based engineering firm did not immediately respond Friday to requests for comment.