PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Amid calls for more transparency, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe Chairman Michael Jandreau is pushing back against allegations from a nonprofit group that leaders on the reservation misdirected millions of dollars in federal funding intended to help impoverished tribal members.
Shortly after speaking at an event in the state Capitol on Thursday, Jandreau told The Associated Press that he denies any wrongdoing related to the Human Rights Watch investigation, which accuses him and others of diverting money and concealing financial activity by withholding government documents from the public.
It appears to be the first time Jandreau has spoken at length about the allegations in the mid-January report, apart from a statement that came shortly after the two-year probe was released.
Jandreau said the report is based on the views of his political opponents and that he’s worked throughout his career to make life on the reservation better.
He offered a soft-spoken defense against the allegations.
“I believe in myself. I believe in what I’ve committed my life to, and so every day I talk to that guy first, and I go through my life,” Jandreau said, pointing upward. “To me that’s what it’s all about. You know, I’ve lived my life with one thought in mind: that what I reach beyond this life is more important to me than becoming a wealthy man by skullduggery or wickedness.”
Further, Jandreau said the tribe’s operations have been conducted with the oversight of attorneys and include yearly audits.
But, according to the report, an estimated $25 million in federal money that the tribe received between 2007 and 2013 for specific projects was redirected into its general fund and went toward “unexplained expenditures.”
Human Rights Watch said the “most blatant example” of wrongdoing stems from the tribe’s purchase of a New York-based brokerage firm, Westrock Advisors.
The report accuses tribal leaders and their business partners of setting up several shell companies and then securing a $22.5 million federal loan guarantee from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Rather than putting the money toward its stated purpose of economic development, the money was used to buy Westrock, which went bankrupt two years later, the report said. The guarantee was ultimately sold for about $20 million to another company, though the tribe hasn’t disclosed the status of the loan, the report found.
Arvind Ganesan, the group’s director of business and human rights, said Human Rights Watch has repeatedly sought information from Jandreau with no success. The investigation relied on documented evidence and had nothing to do with Jandreau’s political opponents, he said.
“If the chairman or anybody doesn’t like the report, the easiest way to counter it is to disclose what happened, and they’ve consistently refused to do that,” Ganesan said.
Jandreau said he’s dealing with the ongoing effects of the allegations but declined to comment on internal matters.
Marshall Matz, an attorney for the Lower Brule Sioux, called the report “baseless and motivated by local politics, not any impropriety.”
Jandreau, who said he’s gotten death threats, could face political challenges this week.
A tribal court judge in mid-February ordered the tribal council to gather in March following months of disagreements among council members and a lack of mandatory meetings, the Daily Republic in Mitchell reported.
Kevin Wright, one of three newly elected council members who want to overhaul the council, said Friday that he wants more transparency in the government.
Jandreau said he’s not sure what will happen at Wednesday’s meeting but said he hopes the opposition acts with respect. Wright declined to say whether he would try to have Jandreau removed, but he lamented that the tribe’s constitution makes it difficult to force out a member.
“What’s dangerous about this constitution is that it has the potential for somebody to set … up an empire,” Wright said.