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Probe clears BIA employees in tribal enrollment dispute

An internal investigation into allegations that Bureau of Indian Affairs employees padded the rolls of a California tribe in order to bolster a controversial bid for a casino has uncovered no wrongdoing.

The Ione Band of Miwok Indians was the subject of a series of Associated Press articles in which critics, including a former chairman, accused the BIA of hijacking the small tribe. The charges centered on claims that senior agency officials added relatives and other employees who favored the casino to the tribal rolls.

The articles prompted Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Virginia), an opponent of all forms of gaming, to demand an investigation into the "shocking" situation.

But Department of Interior Inspector General Earl E. Devaney said the probe "found no evidence" that the employees in question improperly influenced the internal affairs of the tribe. In a July 16 letter, he refuted a host of charges outlined in the AP series, labeling one key allegation that a top agency official was involved in an election that boosted the tribal membership "simply inaccurate."

"In this case," Devaney told Wolf, "based on the results of our investigation, we conclude that BIA officials with potential for conflict of interest were not involved in the elections, and that the casino issue �- while clearly contentious in its own right �- did not influence the elections of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians in 2002."

The election in fact had been authorized by Ronald M. Jaeger, the former regional director of the BIA's office in Sacramento, the letter stated. It was not, as critics had claimed, orchestrated by Amy Dutschke, an Ione tribal member who served as Jaeger's deputy.

"Our investigation found no evidence that Amy Dutschke, BIA Deputy Regional Director took any official action pertaining to the Ione Band; improperly advanced the membership interests of her relatives; or violated any law, rule, regulation, or standard of ethical conduct," Devaney said.

The investigation also debunked the AP's claim that Dutschke's actions led to 68 of her own relatives being added to the rolls. She only has two immediate family members in the tribe, Devaney said.

"The article did correctly report, however, that these two family members are an uncle and a niece, both of whom are employed with BIA," he wrote.

The increase in tribal enrollment in fact came years before the 2002 election that led to the installment of a pro-casino leadership, according to the investigation. Two competing factions of the tribe settled on new membership criteria that led to the boost in the rolls way back in 1996, investigators discovered.

"Thus, the allegation in the Associated Press article that the 2002 election caused membership to increase from 70 to 535 is, simply, inaccurate," Devaney reported.

Additionally, a second BIA employee who was alleged to have overseen the election, resulting in her relatives being added to the rolls, was cleared by the investigation. Carol Rogers-Davis, a tribal operations specialist, had in fact been removed from the process and has no Ione Band relations, according to the letter.

"Furthermore, our investigation found no evidence that Rogers-Davis was a tribal member herself, or that she had any blood relatives in the tribe or on the membership rolls, as alleged in the Associated Press article," Devaney wrote.

The probe appears to resolve lingering doubts over the legitimacy of Ione Band Chairman Matt Franklin, who supports the casino. The BIA has continued to recognize Franklin as the leader of the tribe, over the objections of Nicolas Villa, Jr., who claims the title of "hereditary chief" and opposes gaming.

The debate, however, has already led to political fallout in the city of Plymouth in northern California. Three city officials were recalled in May because they voted to support a municipal services agreement for the proposed casino.

The tribe is still awaiting approval to have 208 acres placed in trust for the project. Tribal leaders envision a $100 million casino with 2,000 slot machines.

Devaney's letter to Wolf was posted on the Office of Inspector General's web site yesterday. It was labeled "redacted" to ensure that the names of Jaeger, Dutschke and Rogers-Davis were not visible.

However, the OIG failed to redact fully the text-only version of the letter, resulting in Dutschke's name appearing in one section. Further, the OIG failed to include security measures in the Adobe Acrobat [PDF] version, enabling anyone to read the names of the three BIA employees by simply selecting the text in the letter.

Jaeger is no longer employed by the BIA, having retired in late 2002. Dutschke has served as acting regional director since then.

Read the Letter:
Text [Original] | PDF [Original] | Text-Only | PDF

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