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People facing disenrollment claim Nooksack Tribe is involved in a racket

A handful of people who have faced disenrollment from the Nooksack Indian Tribe filed a complaint in federal court this week claiming tribal officials defrauded them and submitted false claims to the federal government.

Their complaint, filed Monday in Western District court in Seattle, claims that Chairman Bob Kelly and “holdover council” members whose terms expired in March 2016 have illegally carried on business at the tribe, including trying to disenroll them, despite the council lacking a quorum.

The complaint was filed by six people who have faced the loss of federally subsidized homes, health care and social services provided by the tribe, as the tribe has sought to remove them from the membership rolls.

The six also claim the tribe has improperly submitted claims for more than $1 million to federal agencies for various contracts.

One claim in the complaint alleges that Kelly signed off on an application for more than $850,000 for housing funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for 2017 using population figures that include disenrolled and evicted tribal members.

The complaint was filed under a 1970 federal statute known as RICO (the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act), which was designed to fight organized crime and corruption, and under the False Claims Act.

Kelly did not respond to a request for comment.

This case is the latest filed by attorneys at Galanda Broadman on behalf of members who have fought disenrollment since late 2012, and have called out the tribal council for increasing actions over the course of 2016.

Background

Elections at Nooksack that were supposed to happen in January and February 2016 were not held. Tribal officials wanted to prevent members who could be disenrolled from voting in that election, and after a Nooksack Tribal Court judge ruled all eligible members would need to be allowed to vote, elections were not called.

That meant that on March 24, 2016, four council members’ seats expired and left the council without a quorum, according to an October 2016 letter to Kelly from Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Lawrence Roberts. In the letter, Roberts said actions after that point by the council would not be recognized until the tribe holds a fair election under the rules of the tribe’s constitution.

Kelly responded a few days later with a letter stating the elections had been postponed due to public safety concerns, and that there was “no provision in the Nooksack Constitution, By-Laws, or Election Ordinance that provides that the postponing of a Council member’s election automatically vacates the Council member’s position.”

Kelly requested that Roberts withdraw his letter and acknowledge holdover status of the council members “to avoid any unintended harmful consequences to the Nooksack people, the U.S. government, and third parties, that may result.”

“In the event that there are financial or other consequences to the Nooksack Tribe associated with your Letter, the U.S. government will be held accountable,” Kelly’s letter states.

The tribe announced on Nov. 22, 2016, that it had removed 289 people from the membership rolls that had been erroneously enrolled in the tribe.

Elections were scheduled for and held in December 2016 and this month.

However, on Dec. 23, Roberts again wrote to Kelly, reiterating that the BIA would not view the December primary election or the Jan. 21 general election “as legitimate and we will not accept the results pursuant to our Nation-to-Nation relationship” given that the elections didn’t allow for the people who were allegedly disenrolled to vote, as provided for in a Nooksack Tribal Court of Appeals decision from March 22, 2016.

Roberts said in the letter that if the tribe does not hold such elections by March 31, the BIA “will have no choice but to reassume the provision of Federal services.”

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil

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