Although auditors say a former Utah Paiute Indian tribe official may have improperly used federal grants to increase his salary and hire the unlicensed businesses of relatives, federal agencies will apparently not make the tribe repay any money.
"But the dollar amounts involved were small. If hundreds of thousands of dollars had been involved, a different decision might have been made," said Judy Holtz, spokeswoman for the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services.A 1989 audit obtained from the U.S. Interior Department by the Deseret News through the Freedom of Information Act details what auditors say were likely improper actions by the tribe's former health department director.
But both the federal government and the tribe - which is based in Cedar City - refused to identify the health director by name, saying it would violate his rights under the federal Privacy Act.
But the official's possible misdeeds, according to auditors, include:
- Using tribal and federal money to boost his salary. He paid himself $76,951 in fiscal 1986, "which was more than that paid to the tribe administrator, who received $34,195 . . . The health director who replaced this director received $26,345 in her first year."
Auditors said that came after the former director had received permission "to charge some additional time beyond his normal duties to other programs" without getting specific amounts approved. Auditors said $73,387 of the money came from federal grants from the Interior and HHS departments.
- The former director purchased $51,029 worth of goods and services - with $5,951 coming from federal funds - from four companies that did not have business licenses. They were owned by close relatives of the director and operated out of one of the relatives' personal residence in St. George.
Auditors said the health director "violated the tribal ordinance that prohibits employees from doing business with related persons and requires disclosure of related parties."
Paiute tribal administrator Gayle Rollo said the former health director was not fired and left tribal employment on his own. She said the tribe also feels that "auditors made things sound more severe than they really were."
"We don't believe any ordinances were violated. The audit was done by people who were unfamiliar with tribal ordinances," she said.
The tribe has been negotiating with federal agencies that originally asked for some of the money back because of findings in the audit completed late in 1989 for fiscal 1986.
Betty Foyes, spokeswoman for the Interior Department inspector general, told the Deseret News it has since closed its investigation without requiring any refund of grant money.
Rollo also produced a letter from HHS agreeing not to require refund of the questioned salary and purchase expenses of the health director. However, the tribe is still negotiating whether it must repay over-payments to some individuals through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
Holtz said HHS agreed to allow use of its funds for services and supplies of the health director's relatives' businesses "because we found that they had actually been delivered. If they hadn't been delivered, or if larger amounts were involved, it would have been different."
Rollo said she did not know the exact relation of the health director to the owners of the businesses but believed one was a brother. She said the businesses provided office supplies and bookkeeping services and are no longer used by the tribe.
Auditors also said in their report, "The tribe was not aware that these companies did not have business licenses. Purchases were based on the health director's assurance that the tribe was receiving the best price on its purchases."
The federal government and tribe also would not release the names of the businesses involved, and deleted them (as well as the name of the health department official) from the copy of the audit it released.
Rollo said the tribe gave the former health director full permission to charge the overtime he did.
Rollo added, "One thing that should be mentioned is that we do not feel there was any mishandling of federal funds. Auditors said that. But federal agencies after review did not feel there were questioned costs."
The Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah acts as a federally recognized tribe governed by a tribal council and a tribal chairperson. The tribe consists of the Cedar City, Shivwits, Kanosh, Koosharem and Indian Peaks bands.