FROM THE ARCHIVE

Intimidation alleged at Interior

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FEBRUARY 14, 2001

Responding to alleged incidents of retaliation against a Bureau of Indian Affairs employee, the plaintiffs in the billion dollar class-action trust fund lawsuit on Tuesday asked a federal judge to consider laying new contempt charges against the government.

In a court filing yesterday, the plaintiffs said government lawyers and employees have "fostered an environment of fear and intimidation" at the BIA. They want a number of government lawyers and employees to appear at a contempt of court trial as soon as possible.

Such a trial would not be the first in the history of the lawsuit. Former Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt, Former Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubin, and former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Gover were all held in contempt by Judge Royce Lamberth in February 1999.

Not much has changed since then, according to the plaintiffs. The new contempt charges center around Mona Infield, a BIA senior computer specialist who last year criticized the Department of Interior for proposing to move the BIA national records center from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Washington, DC.

Infield said the move would increase the risk that government documents related to the Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts would end up destroyed. Instead of heeding her advice, Infield says she was stripped of her responsibilities, barred from her office, and "exiled" to her home -- all while still being paid by the BIA. The Interior also maintains she is just a "disgruntled" employee who didn't want to relocate.

But the plaintiffs in the case, led by Blackfeet banker Elouise Cobell, now say Infield's warnings have come true. Along with Alan Balaran, the court-appointed special master assigned to help resolve the case, and lawyers for the government, they made a surprise visit to the new Office of Information Resources Management in Virginia last week.

There, they say they uncovered evidence that records are still being destroyed every day. They also say Balaran himself saved a number of IIM-related documents just as they were about to be shredded by a BIA employee.

If true, the actions would violate a court order against destruction of documents. The actions against Infield would also violate a protective order preventing Interior employees from retaliation.

Last month, Balaran reinforced that order in response to other reports of records destruction. On Monday, he also announced he would begin a formal investigation of the Office of Trust Records, the Interior agency charged with protecting the records of the more than 300,000 Native Americans whose funds are at stake in the lawsuit.

Relevant Links:
The Office of Trust Records - www.doi.gov/ost/ost_otr.html
Trust Management Improvement Project, BIA - www.doi.gov/bia/trust/tmip.htm
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - www.indiantrust.org

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The Trust Fund Fiasco (Smoke Signals 1999)

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