Southern California tribe ousts chairman

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians voted to oust
its tribal chairman amid a federal investigation into alleged fiscal
mismanagement.

However, a BIA official and a tribal source emphasize that now-former
Chairman Charlene Siford is not a suspect in the specific financial
mismanagement charges.

Press reports published in the San Diego County North County Times quoted
BIA officials as saying that as much as $30,000 in tribal funds might be
missing or misspent. The missing money seems to have come from federal
funding for tribal operations and uses such as tribal housing and college
scholarship money.

Unlike many of its neighbors, the tribe does not operate a casino and is
therefore fairly reliant on federal funding for tribal operations. It is
estimated that the tribe received approximately $150,000 in federal funds.

Jim Fletcher, superintendent of the BIA's southern California regional
office, confirmed reports that the tribe is under investigation. He said
that both the federal Inspector General in the Department of the Interior
and the FBI were currently looking into the matter. The tribe has also
temporarily suspended any outside business during the investigation.

However, though Siford is not a suspect, it is unclear as to why she was
removed.

"There's some kind of relationship there, but I don't know specifically
what that is," said Fletcher about the ousting of Siford and the financial
mismanagement investigation.

A tribal official was tight-lipped about the reasons for the ousting. Mesa
Grande business council member Sharon Amero said that a grievance filed by
business council members was the basis for removing Siford from office.

Amero also emphasized that it was not related to the federal investigation.
"It was a separate thing," said Amero.

Amero would not elaborate on the reasons why a grievance was filed in the
first place against Siford, only saying that it was "an internal tribal
matter."

Amero did say that the grievance led directly to a vote by the general
council, or the tribe's adult voting members, who she said "voted
overwhelmingly" to remove Siford from office although she did not report
the actual vote count. Amero reported that the tribe has more than 550
adult voting members.

If the investigation provides evidence that this is a criminal matter, it
will then go to the U.S. Attorney who would, in that case, file criminal
charges. Also, the tribe would be responsible for paying back any missing
funds.

The tribe has a regularly scheduled election in December for tribal
offices. Until then, Amero said, Vice Chairman Mike Linton will serve as
acting chairman. He has already assumed the duties of the office.

The North County Times also reported that a former Mesa Grande tribal
chairman went to jail in the early 1990s because of fiscal discrepancies in
tribal funding.