Saginaw Chippewa return Abramoff-tainted funds

WASHINGTON – The casino-wealthy Saginaw Chippewa Tribe in Michigan has decided to return a $3 million federal grant for school construction that it received as a client tribe of indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The grant came as an “earmark” of Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., in an appropriations bill for fiscal year 2004. Burns, chairman of the subcommittee on Interior appropriations, which approves the budget for the BIA within the Interior Department, had argued for the funding from Interior’s Indian-specific funding, a move resisted by Interior on the grounds that Congress meant the money for the much-needed renovation of schools in Indian country. Burns asked the department to reverse itself and qualify the wealthy Abramoff client-tribe as worthy of new school funding. Failing that, Burns turned to earmarking.

The Washington Post, which broke the many-layered affair of Abramoff’s misdeeds with tribal fees and donations, reported April 7 that the Saginaw Chippewa hope the returned funding will be used for other tribes. The tribe announced its decision in a letter to congressional appropriations committees, according to the Post.

The relationship of Burns and his staff to Abramoff has drawn the attention of federal investigators.