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Feds allege tribe official misspent nearly $100K on meals, airfare, limo and more

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CHARLESTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) —  A Narragansett Indian Tribe member allegedly embezzled more than $21,000 for personal meals at restaurants and more than $17,000 to buy himself merchandise at a number of stores, according to a federal document obtained by Target 12.

In all, the unnamed man is accused of misusing tribe credit cards with $98,000 in personal spending over a six-year period, starting in December 2009.

The Office of Inspector General  for the U.S. Department of the Interior released the four-page “report of investigation” following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from Target 12.

According to investigators, the findings were presented to the District of Rhode Island U.S. Attorney but the agency “declined prosecution.”

R.I. U.S Attorney Public Information Officer Jim Martin would not comment on why the individual was not prosecuted.when he was contacted by Target 12.

Beyond restaurants and retail, the Narragansett member is accused of using tribe credit cards for $10,758 in vehicle fuel, $7,722 in groceries, $6,998 in cable television services and smaller amounts for liquor stores, casino charges and $123 for a limousine service.

According to the document, another $9,178 was spent on airfare, including a November 2011 trip to Fort Myers, Florida, with his girlfriend. 

The individual “declined to be interviewed” for the investigation.

An unnamed “tribal administrator” acknowledged to investigators that “tribal government charge cards were not handled correctly.”

The investigation was given to the acting director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs “for any action deemed appropriate.”

The Narragansetts have an estimated 3,000 members and 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 forwarded the document to recently elected Chief Sachem Anthony Dean Stanton, but he has not responded yet to a request for comment.

Narragansett Medicine Man John Brown said last month he does not know the identity of the “tribal official” referenced in the document.

Longtime Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas, who decided not to run for re-election last fall after 22 years in office, was in charge during the period that was investigated.

Target 12 reached out to Thomas through the last phone number and email address we have for him but have not received a response. 

Thomas’s final years in office were marked by a number of tribal disputes, including an incident in December 2016 when tribe members seized the Narragansett’s Charlestown headquarters.

At that time, federal officials confirmed documents and computers were confiscated but it is unknown whether or not those items played a role in the credit card investigation. 

Thomas was also criticized by some tribe members about his Florida residency.

He called that “irrelevant,” but others claimed tribe rules require the chief to live in Rhode Island or within a 50-mile radius.

Thomas also refused to step down as chief after what was said to be an impeachment in 2016, calling the vote invalid.

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

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