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7.4.04

Trust Fund Whistleblower

Court Official Alleges Interior Department Favored Energy Companies At Indians' Expense

A court-appointed investigator has resigned from the multibillion-dollar lawsuit by American Indians against the Interior Department, contending the government wanted him off the case after he found evidence that energy companies got special treatment at the expense of impoverished Indians.

Alan Balaran, the special master in the case, contends his findings could have cost the companies millions of dollars and that department officials with ties to the industry "could not let this happen."

... The department claims Balaran violated judicial ethics by hiring as an expert witness a former Interior contractor who had accused the department of fraud.

In a separate letter Tuesday, the Interior Department notified the Senate Indian Affairs Committee leaders that it plans to ask the appeals court to dismiss the Indian trust lawsuit, saying the department has the matter in hand and a judge should play no further role.


Yet another disgruntled former employee of the administration claiming that normal procedures have been bent in order to favor corporations. I think I'm starting to see a pattern.

Of course Balaran may be wrong. But the claims made by the department don't give me a great deal of confidence in their story. I don't know a lot about judicial ethics, so maybe I'm not seeing how the violation that Balaran is being charged with is a violation. When you have a court case deciding whether the Interior Department defrauded Native Americans, it seems like a person who believes that the department has committed fraud is a good witness to call.

The "separate letter" also calls into question the department's intellectual integrity. I have to admire the talent of anyone familiar with this case who could, with a straight face, say that the Interior Department has things under control. An audit whose cost is estimated at $9 billion is not something I'd trust this department to do on its own -- as Judge Lamberth said, "the court has no confidence that Interior is willing to actually implement an adequate accounting."

The end of the article suggests that a mediation is in the works. If so, that's all the more reason to keep the lawsuit moving forward. Interior will almost certainly lose in court, so that puts huge pressure on them to make concessions during mediation. (Though the mediation may give them an incentive to continue stalling in their compliance with court orders.)

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