BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Crow Indian leaders blamed U.S. officials for “gross mismanagement” of tribal money after investigators said the Montana tribe misused or couldn’t account for almost $13 million intended for water system improvements.
Crow Chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid said in a Thursday night 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. “I welcome the truth, though it is sometimes difficult for us to hear.”
The statement also deflected some blame for the misuse of money onto the Bureau of Reclamation and a subcontractor hired to work on the water system improvements.
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 found fault with the Bureau of Reclamation for not watching over the tribe closely enough and failing to make sure 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.
The money at issue was intended for drinking and irrigation system upgrades being paid for under a $460 million settlement reached in 2011 with the U.S. government over the tribe’s historical water rights claims. Johnson said the accounting problems are not anticipated to delay the work, which is expected to be completed around 2030.
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 and transit projects.
The tribe said it intends to repay any costs that are found to be “inconsistent” with the water settlement.
Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Tyler Johnson said agency officials requested the audit after they had trouble verifying work and documentation on the water projects.
A timeline provided by Johnson said $12.8 million was transferred to the tribe in August 2017 but put into the wrong account. That occurred about eight months after Not Afraid took office, and Johnson said the tribe was notified within a day that the money was supposed to be in a special account for the water projects.
In September 2017, the tribe moved $8 million into the correct account, according to the agency timeline. It’s unclear what happened to the remaining $4.8 million.
The inspector general said the money went to “business expenses unrelated to the contracts” but provided no further details. Tribal officials did not immediately respond to questions about those expenses.
Johnson said the Bureau of Reclamation has no way to know how the money was spent within the tribe.
Also unclear is what happened to the $7.8 million distributed by the tribe to its subcontractors and vendors. Johnson said federal officials were trying to determine if those payments went toward appropriate project costs.