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Attorney says feds interfered in trust fund probe

WASHINGTON - Attorneys with the Departments of Justice and Interior are accused of disrupting a court investigator's inquiry into missing records relating to billions of dollars in American Indian trust funds.

The investigator, Alan Barlan, an attorney appointed by Judge Royce C. Lamberth in Cobell vs. Babbitt to investigate, held federal records are missing and may have been destroyed.

In a letter to Justice lawyer Phillip Brooks, Barlan says lawyers from the Interior and Justice "have launched a misguided campaign to undermine my authority." He also says government lawyers likened him to a television character and questioned his ability to read and practice law.

"As I have been called worse things by better lawyers, I will not take these insults to heart," Barlan wrote.

While Brooks would not respond to questions about the accusations, he denied government interference in a letter in response to Barlan's letter.

"It is clear from your letter that you are under the impression that your ability to oversee and investigate document retention issues has been hampered by both client management and their counsel," Brooks wrote. "While we dispute your perception, this is neither the time nor the place to address such matters in detail."

Barlan cited the departments of Interior and Treasury in the past for violating court orders. As a result of investigations, Judge Lamberth found former Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubin, former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover, and former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt in contempt of court for failing to comply in a full and timely manner with a discovery order in the case.

Lawyers for Interior claimed they could not comply with a court order to produce documents because they were covered in mouse droppings and in a state of disarray.

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Barlan recently announced he intended to investigate further reports of document destruction at the Northern Cheyenne office in Montana and the practices of the Office of Trust Records, a division formed to deal with records relating to the lawsuit. He claims some individuals within the Office of Trust Records are working "in concert" with lawyers from Interior and Justice.

Indian plaintiffs initiated the class action lawsuit in 1996 to force the federal government to account for billions of dollars in unreconciled tribal trust funds and individual Indian monies. The federal government holds approximately $450 million in nearly 500,000 individual trust accounts.

Reportedly there are no records for more than $100 million of those dollars. In tribal trust accounts overall, $2.4 billion remains unreconciled.

Attorneys for the government argue that the law is unclear before 1994 and the government should be able to move forward with reforms without judicial oversight. The General Accounting Office, the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior, as well as private accounting firms all have issued various reports detailing how the federal government failed to perform its fiduciary duties and breached its trust responsibility to the beneficiaries of these accounts.

That finding was upheld in a ruling by Judge Lamberth which the government is currently appealing.

Witness Tampering

Donald E. Whitener, a former BIA supervisor submitted testimony in an affidavit that claims he was ordered to remove Mona Infield, an employee in the Southwest BIA office, from any involvement in the trust activity. Infield submitted information to a federal judge that said the IIM accounts reform was a sham.

Whitener said that Debra Maddox, acting director of management and administration called him with instructions to remove Infield from trust activities and diminish her rank and responsibilities. Infield was ordered to work from her home since mid-2000.

"I understood Ms. Maddox's instructions to mean that the Deputy Commissioner Hilda Manual and senior management had decided to block Ms. Infield from gaining access to anymore information that could be presented to the court," Whitener said.