Norton accused of continued harassment
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JUNE 12, 2001

The plaintiffs in the billion dollar trust fund lawsuit are once again accusing Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and other top government officials of continued intimidation and harassment of a former Bureau of Indian Affairs employee.

The allegations this time center around Joe Christie, a long-time veteran of the BIA. Along with Mona Infield, a computer analyst in the middle of another employment battle with Norton, Christie has provided court testimony which contradicted the government's position that it was properly maintaining the financial assets of an estimated 300,000 American Indians throughout the country.

But unlike Infield, Christie isn't sitting at home while still drawing an $80,000 yearly salary. He took early retirement at the end of last year, a move the plaintiffs blame on the government.

"For two and one-half years, the Interior Secretary and counsel to the Secretary have falsely attacked and retaliated against Mr. Christie," charged the plaintiffs in a court filing last week.

As a BIA employee in New Mexico, Christie in the mid-1990s oversaw reconciliation of tribal trust accounts. Audits showed that the government couldn't account for $2.6 billion in funds owed to tribes, despite being obligated by law to do so.

Yet after seeing the tribal accounts resolved, Christie soon became embroiled in a bitter legal and political fight over the Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts. He was assigned to work with Paul Homan, the first Interior official brought in to clean up the trust fund system.

But while trying to locate documents the government was required to provide for lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell and four others, Christie was removed from his duties by former Secretary Bruce Babbitt. Homan then resigned from his post the next day in disgust.

Christie's court testimony about destruction of trust fund documents and his removal eventually led Judge Royce Lamberth to issue a stinging order in February 1999 in which he held Babbit, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover in contempt of court.

That wasn't the end of Christie's run-ins with his former bosses, though. Just two years short of retirement, the government last year decided to move Christie's office from Albuquerque to suburban Washington, DC.

After some delays, Lamberth allowed the move to take place. Christie later left the BIA at the end of the year.

Despite no longer being employed by the government, Norton and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill are opposing Christie being part of an ongoing investigation of their respective departments. Special Master Alan Balaran wants to use Christie to help probe Norton's Office of Trust Records, but the two Bush officials have repeatedly objected.

Relevant Links:
Trust Management Improvement Project -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

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