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OST can't find owners of more than $70M in trust funds
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Filed Under: Cobell | Trust

Despite increased efforts, the Office of Special Trustee still can't find the rightful owners of more than $70 million in Indian trust funds, according to a report filed in court on Wednesday.

As of June 30, there were 70,704 "whereabouts unknown accounts" in the Indian trust, according to the Interior Department's latest status report. That's up from the 62,640 WAU accounts that were identified as of March 31.

The total worth of the 70,000-plus accounts came to $70.7 million, the report stated. That's higher than the $62.7 million the department disclosed just four months ago.

According to the Bryan Marozas, the program manager of OST's beneficiary call center, the number of WAU accounts has increased due to the way trust reform is being carried out. Once the department's fiduciary trust model is completed, the number "is expected to stabilize," he said.

But the rate at which the number of WAU accounts are added to the system continues to surpass the rate at which OST locates the rightful owners of Indian trust funds. That makes it difficult for the agency to catch up.

For example, 14,234 accounts with a total value of $6.6 million were added to the WAU list from April 1 through June 30. During the same time frame, OST was only able to locate the rightful owners of 6,170 accounts worth $6.4 million, according to the report.

The record was no better from January 1 to March 31. During that time, OST added 12,164 accounts worth more than $7 million to the list and located only 4,382 account holders with a total value of $5.9 million.

Of the 70,000-plus WAU accounts, the majority contain less than $1,000. A large chunk -- 25,194 accounts -- each have less than $1, according to the report.

But there a significant number of WAU accounts with balances greater than $1,000 and balances greater than $5,000. There are 69 accounts that have balances greater than $50,000, money that isn't being distributed to the proper owners.

The number of WAU accounts plays into the Cobell trust fund lawsuit, which entered its 11th year in June. The plaintiffs say the department's numbers are unreliable because the data in the computer systems has not been verified.

Without knowing who has been paid and who hasn't, the department has no way of knowing whether the money got to the correct beneficiaries. A trial that will start in October is expected to shed some light on the issue.

A separate issue also affects the accounting but in a different way. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has long used "special deposit accounts" to hold trust funds in temporary accounts until it identifies the rightful owner.

In many cases, the BIA is able to deposit the money into the correct account. According to the report filed in court, over $43 million in SDA monies has been properly distributed.

But more than $15 million in over 11,000 special deposit accounts remains in limbo, according to the report. These accounts will not be part of the historical accounting, the department said in its May 2007 plan, an exclusion that will also be considered at the upcoming trial.

"Accounting for these SDA is not a historical endeavor, because any distribution from an SDA to an IIM account will be a current period transaction after December 31, 2000, the end of the historical accounting period," the report stated. "As a result, the 2007 plan excludes SDA."

The report filed yesterday was the department's 30th since the start of the Cobell case. The reports are filed every quarter in order to keep the court informed of trust reform efforts.

Quarterly Reports:
30th | 29th

Historical Accounting :
2007 Historical Accounting Plan (May 2007) | Report to Congress (May 2007)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Kempthorne - http://www.indiantrust.com
Office of Special Trustee - http://www.doi.gov/ost
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm

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