Fed money bumps Cortez economy

Interest-rate manipulation suit leads to record payoutute mountain utes received big checks, propping town

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 19 2012 11:11 p.m. MST

DURANGO, Colo. — Lino Padilla switched from phone call to phone call, negotiating new car deals by the minute. Outside strands of red white and blue fringe were strung across the parking lot filled with used cars for sale.

The sales Padilla is making now are nothing compared to a few months ago in July, when adult members of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe received $12,500 each from the distribution of $42.6 million in federal settlement money.

Padilla sold 17 cars in one day after the settlement money was distributed, he said. The most he usually sells is six or eight.

"I'm the only one that put an ad in the paper and on the radio station thanking the Ute Mountain Ute tribe," said Padilla, who co-owns 4x4 Auto Sales with his wife, Brenda.

Like Padilla, business owners throughout Cortez reported seeing a noticeable rise in business when Ute Mountain Ute members received their portion of the multimillion-dollar settlement with the Department of the Interior. A total of 41 tribes received money from the $1 billion settlement that resolved numerous lawsuits alleging federal mismanagement of tribal money and trust lands.

The tribe grappled with what to do with the money, considering proposals to invest the money on behalf of the tribe, invest some in tribal programs or distribute the money in designated chunks.

But under pressure by many vocal members, tribal councilors distributed the majority of the money directly to tribal members. Members received a total of almost $19,000 each in three payments made in May, July and September.

The distribution translated into a major and almost immediate infusion of business into the Cortez community, local business owners said.

Tribal members came straight to his car dealership after receiving their checks, Padilla said. Some simply signed over their checks to him instead of going through the step of cashing them. He organized barbecues, car washes and live radio promotions to advertise his offerings in the days after the settlement distribution.

Business owners confirmed that tribal spending has died down now.

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