Members of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation have filed a lawsuit claiming that tribal leaders have engaged in “ongoing improprieties” while shrouding the tribe’s finances in secrecy and hiding details on millions of dollars in spending.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, contends that tribal leaders violated the tribe’s constitution in buying land in Las Vegas totaling more than $115 million and said the finances of the tribe’s 4 Bears Casino and Lodge have been concealed from members, discussed only in closed meetings.
The tribe’s treasurer, Mervin Packineau, has failed to provide a written record of receipts and expenditures, financial statements or audits of the tribe since at least 2009, according to the lawsuit.
“They’re just kind of unilaterally making these choices,” spending money without informing tribal members, lead plaintiff Carol Good Bear said Wednesday, Sept. 13. “We want them to follow the Constitution and we want to be included.”
Tribal members also have no access to financial records involving at least 26 for-profit enterprises and at least 17 not-for-profit organizations the tribe appears to be operating, the lawsuit said.
Records indicate officials have withdrawn more than $1.5 billion from a People’s Fund financed by non-renewable oil and gas revenues from 2010 through 2022.
“Throughout that duration, to Plaintiffs’ knowledge, Treasurer Packineau has never provided a report, written or verbal, on the status or balance of the People’s Fund,” the suit said, despite receiving monthly statements for the fund from the federal government’s Bureau of Trust Fund Administration. The bureau manages the financial assets of American Indians held in trust by the Department of the Interior.
‘Like being in Mexico’
From 2010 through 2022, the tribal council purportedly spent more than $4.8 billion from the tribe’s general fund, including more than $2.3 billion in oil and gas revenues and the $1.5 billion from the People’s Fund, leaving an apparent deficit of $940.8 million, the lawsuit said.
Since 2010, the last audit known by the plaintiffs was completed in 2021, for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2018.
The MHA Nation published a news article disclosing that audits were not completed for 2020, 2021 and 2022, the lawsuit said.
A summary of the 2018 audit, leaked on an unknown Facebook page, revealed that the auditing firm, Moss Adams, issued two adverse opinions and four disclaimers regarding the tribal treasurer’s books and records, according to the lawsuit.
Due to “the inadequacy of accounting records,” the auditors were unable to adequately determine receivables, equity interest, capital assets, liabilities, net position, fund balances, transfers, revenues and expenses.
As a result, the auditors were unable to “obtain sufficient appropriate audit evidence to provide a basis for an audit opinion on the financial statements of the governmental activities and each major governmental fund of the Tribes,” the lawsuit said.
Records the plaintiffs have obtained indicate that tribal officials have spent money “arbitrarily and capriciously,” favoring relatives and others. In one example, the son of a tribal official bought a house with little or no money down for $400,000, then sold it for $600,000, pocketing $200,000.
“They’re going across the board to do what they want, help who they want,” Good Bear said. “That’s not fair.”
The lawsuit said audits should be performed to determine whether others might have been involved in a kickback scheme involving construction contractor Francisco Javier Solis Chacon, in which two council members and two tribal employees were criminally charged.
Chacon told FBI agents that working on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation was “like being in Mexico, if you knew the right people, you could do whatever you wanted,” the lawsuit said.
Judgments and restitution orders against the defendants in the kickback scheme case total more than $1.4 million.
‘It has become worse and worse’
The lack of financial accountability and lack of public input started before the administration of Chairman Mark Fox, who took office in 2014, beginning when Tex Hall was tribal chairman, Good Bear said.
“It started back in the Tex Hall days and it has become worse and worse under the Mark Fox administration,” since Packineau became treasurer in 2010, she said.
Fox and the tribe’s chief financial officer, Whitney Bell, gave an oral and written report on the tribe’s finances to tribal elders in July — a briefing later printed in the MHA Times that the lawsuit called “inaccurate, misleading and incomplete,” with discrepancies in figures and no disclosure of the tribe’s debts.
The lawsuit also said tribal officials failed to follow requirements in the tribal Constitution involving public notices, public meetings and voting procedures to approve policies and spending. In between regular meetings, Fox sometimes issues unilateral “executive actions” with “no prior notice and no opportunity for meaningful, public discussion on the subject matter of the actions.”
“I am not at ease about the way they are handling millions and millions of dollars,” Good Bear said.
Besides Fox and Packineau, those named in the lawsuit are the tribes’ Vice Chairman Cory Spotted Bear, Executive Secretary Fred Fox and council members Robert White, Sherry Turner-Lone Fight and Monica Mayer.
Joining Good Bear as plaintiffs are Terrance Fredericks, Todd Hall, Patti Jo Hal, Kelly Hosie and Edward S. “Tyke” Danks.
The lawsuit, dated Sept. 5, asks a judge to order tribal officials to “maintain accurate and public accounts of the financial affairs of the Tribe,” including an annual report of the tribe’s financial affairs, with annual audits as well as annual profit and loss statements for the tribe’s corporations.
A spokeswoman for chairman Fox said The Forum’s request for comment on the lawsuit had been forwarded to “legal counsel for appropriate response,” but no response was received by publication time.