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The Interior Department continues to mislead a judge overseeing the government’s effort to reform a system that has mismanaged royalties from Indian lands, a court-appointed watchdog said Tuesday. And it is Secretary Gale Norton “who carries the ultimate responsibility for the repeated untruthful and knowingly inaccurate and incomplete submissions” to the court, wrote Joseph S. Kieffer III in his latest report to Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Under Norton, efforts to reform the trust, which manages roughly $500 million a year in royalties, has been stymied by the same lack of leadership and candor that plagued her predecessor, Bruce Babbitt, said Kieffer. The pattern of deceit calls into question whether Interior is capable of ever fixing the trust fund, he said. Lamberth is presiding in a lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 300,000 Indian trust fund account holders who claim the government squandered at least $10 billion and possibly many times that amount. The trust funds were established in 1887 to manage royalties from grazing, mining, logging and oil drilling on Indian lands. The government has acknowledged mismanaging the funds, and Lamberth has ordered the Interior and Treasury departments and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to piece together how much money was lost. The judge is also closely watching Interior and BIA’s efforts to reform their management practices. More than $614 million has been spent by the Interior Department on the trust fund overhaul. Kieffer’s latest report focuses largely on the way the Interior Department handled its latest quarterly progress report for the court. After Special Trustee Thomas Slonaker, the top trust official, refused to vouch for the accuracy of the report, Interior Solicitor Bill Meyers made repeated requests to other senior Interior officials to sign off on it. Several resisted, and Kieffer said others believed they were subjected to “overt intimidation by the solicitor,” casting doubts about the accuracy of the entire report. The report was submitted despite the objections. “The Secretary of the Interior has verified an untruthful, inaccurate, and incomplete” quarterly report, Kieffer wrote. It is the fourth time he has blasted the Interior Department for submitting misleading reports. Dennis Gingold, the attorney for the Native American plaintiffs, said the department can’t be trusted. “The secretary and her appointees and senior management and her counsel have acted in concert to perpetrate a fraud on this court,” Gingold said. “They don’t care about doing their job. They just care about making it appear to the court that they are doing their job.” Gingold said that by the end of the week he will ask the court to take the management of the trust away from Interior and appoint a receiver to manage the assets and reform efforts. Interior spokeswoman Nedra Darling said Kieffer’s report is being reviewed and the department would respond within 10 days. “It is a priority of the department to move the Indian Trust accounting system into the 21st century,” she said. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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