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Inspector General begins investigation into alleged ethics violations, Tribal data release

May 14, 2020

Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney speaks to the Alaska Federation of Natives delegation during its annual convention in October 2018 in downtown Anchorage. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KNBA)

The U.S. Inspector General sent a letter to a New Mexico senator confirming an investigation into whether the Departments of Interior and Treasury violated ethics rules and regulations.

U.S. Senator Tom Udall, a Democrat, shared the letter in an announcement Monday, May 11, welcoming the investigation. Udall serves as vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

According to the letter, the Inspector General’s office says it will investigate whether the Department of Treasury released Tribal data improperly.

It will also investigate whether a senior Trump administration official showed a potential conflict of interest advocating that Alaska Native corporations be eligible for a portion of an $8 billion Tribal allocation of the CARES Act.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of six Tribes – three of them are Alaska Tribes – claims that the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs violated ethics rules by advocating for Alaska Native corporations to receive a portion of the CARES Act reserved for tribal governments.

The lawsuit says that as a shareholder of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, a regional Native corporation, Tara Sweeney intentionally diverted money to Native corporations and away from Lower 48 and Alaska Native Tribes.

The Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs works within the Department of Interior, which is a defendant in the lawsuit along with the Department of Treasury.

A statement from Udall’s office says the New Mexico senator requested the reviews in April after hearing concerns from Tribal governments.

The statement says, “These formal reviews into potential wrongdoing related to the disbursement of CARES Act funds reserved for Tribal governments are absolutely necessary.” It goes on to say, “The Trump administration’s troubled handling of the distribution of Tribal government relief -- cries out for robust oversight -- as Indian Country is experiencing some of the worst impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Tribal allocation was originally scheduled to begin April 26. However, that funding was delayed. A judge issued an injunction against any allocation reserved for Alaska Native regional and village corporations until the lawsuit is settled.