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White Earth tribal chairman says he has asked U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate $4.9 million energy contract

In a message to tribal members posted by White Earth Tribal Chairman Michael Fairbanks Sunday on the White Earth Nation Facebook Page, Fairbanks wrote that “Information has come to my attention regarding the possible misuse of tribal funds by White Earth Secretary-Treasurer Leonard Alan Roy. The $4.9 million Total Spectrum contract directs a substantial portion of tribal funds to ‘venture parties.’ There is no clear record as to how these ‘venture parties’ got into the contract.”

Mike Fairbanks.jpeg
White Earth Tribal Chairman Michael Fairbanks

White Earth Tribal Chairman Michael Fairbanks says he has been in contact with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota and has asked it to investigate the tribe’s $4.9 million contract with Total Spectrum, a Washington consulting firm, for sustainable energy projects on the reservation.

Alan Roy.jpg
White Earth Secretary-Treasurer Alan Roy. (Submitted photo)

In a message to tribal members posted by Fairbanks Sunday on the White Earth Nation Facebook Page, Fairbanks wrote that “Information has come to my attention regarding the possible misuse of tribal funds by White Earth Secretary-Treasurer Leonard Alan Roy. The $4.9 million Total Spectrum contract directs a substantial portion of tribal funds to ‘venture parties.’ There is no clear record as to how these ‘venture parties’ got into the contract.”

But, Fairbanks continued, “it is clear at this point they were hand-selected behind closed doors due to their political allegiance to Secretary-Treasurer Roy. After the contract was signed and tribal funds directed to the venture parties, these same parties initiated a baseless petition to remove me from office under the direction of Secretary-Treasurer Roy.”

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For his part, Roy did not address the concerns about tribal funds going to ‘venture parties,’ but in a Dec. 27 official letter posted on the tribal Facebook page, he did call Fairbanks’ letter “misinformation” and a political attack, and accused him of long standing bias against small business.

Total Spectrum did not respond to an email Sunday or a phone message left Monday.

In his official letter, Fairbanks said he asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office “that an investigation be launched into the Total Spectrum contract, including the relationship of the venture parties to Secretary-Treasurer Roy, how the venture parties were selected, and how the tribal funds paid to Total Spectrum were possibly converted for Secretary-Treasurer Roy's political purposes.”

Fairbanks added that “I am issuing this statement now and making this information public so it will be clear that any future attempts by Secretary-Treasurer Roy to retaliate against any cooperating employees through intimidation, harassment, unwarranted discipline or termination is likely a further act of obstructing justice, which will also be promptly reported to the U.S. Attorney.”

In a similar official letter posted on the tribe’s Facebook Page Sept. 24, Fairbanks criticized the way the Tribal Council awarded the $4,884,000 Total Spectrum contract for research and technical advice about the renewable energy industry.

“To me,” he wrote, “it's unacceptable for a contract this size to be awarded to a non-native consulting firm and hand-selected tribal member-owned businesses with no open bidding and selection process. I want to support our tribal member-owned businesses, but in a way that is fair and open to all. The RBC (Reservation Business Committee, also known as the Tribal Council) failed to conduct a fair selection process so all tribal member-owned businesses could be considered for this project.”

Fairbanks had concerns about the contract from the start

In the Sept. 24 Facebook message, Fairbanks also said he was concerned about using money from the tribe’s general fund “when there are millions earmarked for renewable energy projects coming from the federal government. It appears to me that this project was rushed through to avoid oversight by the tribe's public utility commission … Ultimately, this Total Spectrum contract was rushed through with no chance for our band membership to understand what we are spending these funds on and why we are spending them.”

While it is true the Tribal Council has been looking into potential renewable energy projects, he added, “this proposal itself wasn't presented to me until the day before the (Tribal Council) meeting, and then only certain information was shared with me. I was shocked when the (Tribal Council) approved the $4.9 million contract as-is the next day.”

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Secretary-Treasurer Alan Roy responds to allegations

In his Dec. 27 letter, Secretary-Treasurer Roy said that the petition for removal against the chairman stemmed from an incident in 2019, when he was paid for two weeks of work done prior to being sworn in as chairman.

“The Office of the Secretary-Treasurer conducted an investigation into the matter,” Roy said in his letter. “Administratively, the fiscal violation was reported on Sept. 5, 2019 and it was corrected on Jan. 29, 2020 through a payroll deduction,” though Fairbanks had attempted to pay the money back earlier on his own, Roy said.

The petition for removal against Fairbanks is now being dropped, because it failed to meet the 90-day deadline, Roy said. Tribal ordinance requires the Office of the Secretary-Treasurer process all removal petitions, and he even had to process one against himself, Roy added.

Roy said that after Fairbanks held a community discussion on the Sept. 24 contract, Fairbanks “released the private information of small business owners, after District 3 (Tribal Council) Rep. Cheryl Jackson publicly declared her commitment to the said contract.”

Because of that, Jackson has since been accused of processing several $30,000 applications that benefited her family, Roy said. “When the chairman doesn’t get what he wants he attacks those that oppose him..,” he added.

“I assure the employees of our great organization that we will continue business as usual,” Roy said. “Since it is an election year, I expect political attacks, but never expected one to occur the day after Christmas.”

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
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