A yearlong investigation of government programs that help Indians has found "mismanagement, gross negligence and clear evidence of criminal wrongdoing," said a spokesman for the senator heading the probe.
A special Senate investigative committee will begin three weeks of hearings Monday to review those findings, beginning with problems within the Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal governments.The committee also will look into allegations that Indian reservations are being infiltrated by organized crime and into recurring problems of child sexual abuse in some Indian schools.
Committee members and staff have refused to provide details about the findings of the investigation, except to say the hearings will be startling.
"The enormous amount of information that has been gathered indicates extremely serious problems," said Robert Maynes, a spokesman for Chairman Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz.
The committee's charter is to suggest ways to reform Indian programs, but "there is no question that large amounts of information will be turned over to the Justice Department" for criminal prosecution, Maynes added.
The special committee was formed after a series of articles in the Arizona Republic last year charged that the Bureau of Indian Affairs' programs are in a shambles. Indian leaders had been making such claims in less detail for years.
The Republic claimed that a bloated BIA bureaucracy spends 90 percent of its $1 billion budget on administrative costs, cannot account for more than $250 million in equipment and is in such disarray that it cannot meet most Indian needs.
The newspaper also charged that the BIA had been negligent in allowing oil and gas companies to steal $5.7 billion from Indian tribes in unpaid fees over the past 10 years.
Originally, the committee had intended to focus on oil and gas leases. At least one prominent Indian leader has voiced concern over the committee's decision to broaden the investigation to include corruption within the tribes.
"My first thought . . . was that sooner or later the scoundrels in Congress and the scoundrels in the executive branch would get together and decide that it was all the Indians' fault. I hope that hasn't happened," said Suzan Shown Harjo, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians.
Allegations of Indian connections to organized crime are also an addition to the agenda.
"There have been reports of the presence of organized crime becoming part of gambling on Indian reservations. . . . If it's present to the degree we think, it's important to take a look at it," said Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., a member of the committee.
Indian leaders have denied any problem with organized crime within Indian gambling, which involves a booming business of bingo halls and miniature casinos.
A staff of about two dozen investigators, operating on a budget of less than $1 million, has conducted investigations in 30 states and has gathered information from about 600 individuals for the committee, according to Maynes.
A second set of hearings to look into the charges concerning oil and gas leasing fees will be scheduled later in the spring, Maynes said.