The Montana's Crow Indian Tribe can't account for $14.5 million it received for transportation programs. This is the second time in less than two years the tribe has had a problem in its handling of federal grant money.

The finding comes from the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General and resulted from an audit of a contract that provided federal money to build and maintain highways, bridges and transit facilities.
The audit showed the tribe was unable to provide documentation on payments it made to subcontractors and vendors between Oct. 2012 and March 2017.
Investigators say they could not determine what happened to the money.They faulted the tribe for having "deficient internal controls" over the money and said its accounting system was inadequate to handle federal funds.

 

"We requested the necessary documentation numerous times during two site visits, and through emails to the finance and legal departments and the chairman of the Tribe," investigators wrote in Monday's report. "They all stated that the records have not been located. Therefore, we question the total amount of the agreement's $14,492,813."

Most of the money was received by the tribe under the leadership of former Chairman Darrin Old Coyote. Old Coyote lost in the 2016 election and was replaced by current Chairman A.J. Not Afraid Jr in December 2016.

Old Coyote flatly denied that any federal funding was unaccounted for during his administration and said that all money was properly allocated and documented during his tenure.

He instead said the problem was the fault of a contractor who managed the tribe's finance department after he left office. He cited an excerpt from the audit that said that contractor did not know how to manage federal agreements.

The problems within the finance department happened after his term, and the inspector general is wrong to question the spending under his administration, he said.

"We're being penalized for somebody else's incompetence right now," Old Coyote said. "We have all the audits, and if there was a question they probably would have asked us then."

The tribe could be forced to repay some or all of the money if it cannot document where the money went.

In 2016 the tribe had to repay more than $2 million to the federal government after an earlier audit revealed tribal officials diverted money meant for a new transit facility into the tribe's general budget.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs said in response to the latest Inspector General's report that it had designated the Crow Tribe as "high risk," meaning it can now receive government money on a reimbursable basis only and not in advance.

(The Associated Press Contributed to this Story)

AP (Larry Mayer / The Billings Gazette via AP, File)

(Larry Mayer /The Billings Gazette via AP, File)