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Feds allege embezzlement of $98K by ‘tribal official,’ but no charges

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CHARLESTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) —  A summary of an investigation by the Office of Inspector General alleges a Narragansett Indian official used tribal government charge cards to embezzle more than $98,000. 

The OIG did not name the official and did not release the full report, stating it was “provided to the Acting Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”

According to the document, “the theft included charges for restaurants, airfare, retail purchases, food, and utility and telephone services” from December 2009 to July 2015.

“The charges were billed to the tribe and paid using a combination of Federal and tribal funds,” the summary said.

The Narragansetts receive about $7.5 million a year in federal funding and another $750,000 from Rhode Island through a cut of video lottery terminal revenue.

Target 12 filed a request for the full investigation through the Freedom Of Information Act. The BIA has not responded to request for comment. 

The summary stated the District of Rhode Island U.S. Attorney “declined prosecution.” That agency’s spokesman, Jim Martin, said “no comment” when asked by Target 12 why that decision was made.

Narragansett Medicine Man John Brown said he does not know who the “tribal official” referenced in the document is, and he was puzzled about why the entire report was not released.  

“[The summary] raises more questions than it resolves,” Brown said. “We have forwarded the summary to our attorney for review, and hopefully we get the full report soon.”

Tribe elder Darlene Monroe said she filed the initial complaint by writing a letter to the BIA in 2014 about a number of what she claimed were “irregularities” involving federal funds. 

She said she first met with federal investigators in early 2015 and to her recollection, talked with them about three times since then.

“We know it’s more than $98,000,” Monroe said. “I’m not satisfied that they’re not prosecuting. We want the full report to see the details.”

While she believes the amount in question is more than stated in the summary, she was frustrated that money that paid off the official’s personal expenses was not used in better ways.

“$98,000 is a lot of money,” Monroe said. “That could’ve gone toward our kids’ education or for our elders.”

Brown said he did not know what the focus of the investigation was, adding that federal authorities conduct extensive audits of the tribe’s spending every year.

Brown said the tribe population is around 3,000, and about half are minors and children.

In December 2016, federal officials confirmed that documents and computers were confiscated from the tribe’s headquarters when a group seized the building.

Monroe said she does not know whether or not those items played a role in the outcome of the investigation.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter@wbuteau

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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