S.D. tribe with Redskins ties accused of misusing funds
A crescent moon rises between lodges during the Kul Wicasa Pow Wow in Lower Brule, S.D., on Aug. 13, 2010. Between 2007 and 2013, $25 million in aid to the tribe is unaccounted for, according to Human Rights Watch. (Photo: (Sioux Falls, S.D.) Argus Leader)
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The leaders of a South Dakota Indian reservation that supplied the Washington Redskins football team with popcorn at FedEx Field last season have been accused of misappropriating millions of dollars in a report released Monday by an international non-profit.
Between 2007 and 2013, an estimated $25 million that was intended for essential services, economic development and the alleviation of poverty on the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe was unaccounted for. Millions of dollars meant for specific programs were instead diverted to the tribe’s general fund and spent on “unexplained expenditures.”
Taxpayers, meanwhile, are on the hook for an additional $22.5 million in the form of a loan guarantee that the Bureau of Indian Affairs extended to a tribal company. Money from the loan guarantee, which was sold to an insurance company, was used for a tribal-owned Wall Street brokerage firm that went bankrupt amid mismanagement and fraud, according to the report.
The report, issued by Human Rights Watch, an international organization that investigates abuse, follows a two-year investigation by the group that included interviews with dozens of tribal members, the review of federal audits and other federal, state and tribal documents.
The report blames longtime Lower Brule Chairman Michael Jandreau and his political allies for diverting money and withholding basic government documents from the public to hide their activities.
Arvind Ganesan, the director of business and human rights for Human Rights Watch and the report’s author, called the situation at Lower Brule a “tragic example” of that happens when governments operate without transparency.
“For tribal governments, it’s an example of why it’s critically important that they have transparency and oversight,” said Ganesan.
Last year, the Washington Redskins made a deal with the tribe to sell the popcorn of a Lower Brule tribal company during games, part of owner Dan Snyder’s efforts to reach out to Native Americans amid controversy over the team name. Team spokesman Tony Wyllie confirmed that the popcorn was sold at FedEx Field, although he did not disclose the terms of the partnership.
The release of the Human Rights Watch report coincides with a power struggle between Jandreau, who has been tribal chairman 36 years, and reformers. Three reformers were elected to the six-member council in September, but Jandreau and the old council members have asked the tribal court to remove the new members.
Kevin Wright, one of the new council members, said the Human Rights Watch report raises serious questions about the tribe’s longtime leadership.
“It just reinforces why we need to get rid of the old council,” said Wright. “Mismanagement of funds — federal tax dollars — is a serious accusation.”
Jandreau did not return phone messages left for him last week. Tara Adamski, a lawyer in Pierre, S.D., who represents the tribal government as its general counsel, declined to comment.
“In speaking to my client, I’m not authorized to have any comment,” Adamski said.