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Court monitor accuses top officials of filing false report

WASHINGTON ? A court monitor in the ongoing case over Individual Indian Monies accounts has offered the court proof of the most serious acts of mismanagement since the Bush administration began oversight of individual and tribal trust funds.

In his latest filing, court-appointed monitor Joseph Kieffer III accuses top officials at Interior, including Secretary Gale Norton, of 'untruthfully and knowingly' submitting an 'inaccurate, untruthful, and incomplete' report to the court in the case of Cobell vs. Norton.

In 1999, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth ordered the Interior secretary to submit quarterly reports to the court on the department's progress in reforming IIM accounts. The report Kieffer cites is the department's latest, which also was filed a month late. He says top officials within the administration worked to certify the report even though it was inaccurate.

Kieffer said the secretary's actions show a 'continued willingness of this administration to mislead this Court to protect their litigation posture regarding their and their subordinates' continuing management failures.'

Kieffer told the court that Interior Solicitor Bill Meyers pressured senior officials to sign off on the report despite their belief that much of it was untrue. He said a number resisted and expressed the feeling they were subjected to 'overt intimidation.'

In a memo, Interior officials who refused to sign said that certifying portions of the report would 'border on the foolhardy.' Even the Special Trustee Thomas Slonaker, the head official on trust funds management, refused to sign off on the report despite requests from the secretary and the solicitor.

Kieffer was appointed by Judge Lamberth to monitor the government's progress in trust reform and file written reports of his findings. His first three reports said the federal government failed in its plan to resolve the trust funds problem and that it intentionally misled the court and American Indian beneficiaries. This report is the first directly critical of just Bush officials.

Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet tribe, and a group of other American Indian plaintiffs, initiated the class action in 1996 to force the federal government to account for millions of dollars in unreconciled Individual Indian Monies. The financial records maintained by the federal government reflect investment of as much as $500 million Indian trust funds a year in government securities on behalf of more than 300,000 individual trust beneficiaries.

To date, Congress has appropriated approximately $614 million for trust reform. In tribal trust accounts overall, $2.4 billion still remains unreconciled. Plaintiffs say the government has lost track of at least $10 billion.

Keith Harper, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that this latest revelation by the court monitor reinforces their position that a receivership is needed to successfully conduct the trust reform process. A 'receiver' would be an individual or group of individuals appointed by the court to oversee management of the government's trust reform efforts, taking over control of trust management decisions currently made by administration officials.

'This just adds more fuel to the fire and points to the obvious need for a receivership,' Harper said. 'This report shows that the department continues to respond politically and it targets the current administration in a very serious way. When a court monitor writes a report and says what he is saying, that's shocking. It says that the secretary is lying and that's a major problem.'