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Judge: I was duped by government
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 2002

Last updated: 1:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

The federal judge overseeing the trust fund said today he was "duped" by the federal government, criticizing officials and attorneys for playing "word games" with the assets of 300,000 American Indians.

During closing arguments in Secretary Gale Norton's contempt trial, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said he has been "troubled" by the government's handling of the Internet shutdown that has delayed payments to Indian beneficiaries. After being told that grazing checks were being disbursed, he said he was "dumbfounded" to learn that National Congress of American Indians President Tex Hall and more than 6,000 members of his tribe haven't received funds promised to them.

But in trying to understand how a Department of Justice attorney could have confused him, Lamberth admitted he was flabbergasted. "It's a word game," he said.

"It's beyond my belief how the court ever gets control," he added.

Lamberth expressed serious concerns about the lack of security measures that have plagued the Department of Interior's information technology systems for years. He said "untold amounts of money could have disappeared" without no one ever noticing.

"That's what's most shocking of all," Lamberth said. "How a trustee can get into the position of allowing those systems to be totally at risk . . . almost boggles my mind."

An attorney representing the Indian beneficiaries said that was the reason Lamberth needed to act and place the system into receivership. "The trust is in crisis," said Dennis Gingold. "Something has to be done now."

Gingold spent two hours on his closing argument before a break in the proceedings. The government will get its say this afternoon.

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Trust Reform, NCAI - http://130.94.214.68/main/pages/
issues/other_issues/trust_reform.asp

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