Blackfeet Tribal Business Council dismisses treasurer

Great Falls, Montana (AP) 11-07

The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council has fired treasurer Joe Gervais after an audit that cited “poor cash management, unethical and possible criminal actions.”

No charges have been filed against Gervais, who was fired the third week of October and replaced by Kenneth Augare.

“I’ve kept that place afloat for seven years, but every year my (spending) recommendation has been between $8.9 (million) and $9.5 million, with no per capita payments, Gervais said. “But the council never agrees – and now they blame me for it.” Willie Sharp, secretary of the business council, said the firing came after the council reviewed the results of an audit for fiscal year 2005.

“The auditors seemed to be dragging their feet. But they said they couldn’t account for the money, track the paper trail,” Sharp said. “They said it was a nightmare.”

He said the audit echoes the problems of previous ones.

“The question was whether we continue on and let Joe try to rectify the problems,” Sharp said. “Joe is a good person and he has a lot of knowledge, but we felt we had to be a catalyst in moving on.”

He said the report by Forensic Solutions LLC showed that nine of 10 findings in the 2004 audit went uncorrected, as did all five findings in 2003 and 2002.

Gervais said the tribe spent two years trying to get a loan to correct the problems.

“When we finally did get the loan in 2006, we corrected them,” he said.

The audit accused Gervais of using “outdated and antiquated accounting software for years” and a “lack of financial information to the tribal council.”

The audit also criticized “abuse of the tribal Workers Compensation Program premiums that were loaned to other programs without repayment terms or interest – the amount was lowered to a few dollars.”

Gervais acknowledged that was a problem.

“The day after that audit was taken, we got a huge ($9 million) loan,” he said. “We had borrowed against our workers comp to cover our deficits due to the revenue loss of a tribal tax being struck down. We were the only tribe that didn’t cut its budget at the time, although I recommended it.”

Gervais said the tribe used $4.2 million of the loan to repay workers comp, but later borrowed from the program again.

Gervais criticized the tribe in April 2007 for not cutting the budget years ago when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a tribal property tax that was bringing in $1.4 million per year. He also criticized the tribe for spending $1.2 million in December 2006 to give each of more than 16,000 tribal members a $75 Christmas bonus.

Information from: Great Falls Tribune,