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Corruption found in preliminary Cherokee audit results

cherokeePrincipal Chief Patrick Lambert bore the look of a man on a mission when he presented Tribal Council with a first look at results of an ongoing forensic audit on Tuesday. The results he held in hand may have been only preliminary, he told council, but they were disturbing enough that he’s already encouraged the FBI to start investigating.

“What we’ve found is clear fraud, wrongdoing, crimes and a failed system of checks and balances within this tribal government,” Lambert told council. 

“I intend on taking these clear violations of federal laws to the FBI and federal attorney’s office. It’s beyond serious,” he continued. “I’m not playing games. I want those responsible tried, convicted and sent to jail.”

When Lambert took office six months ago, getting the audit ball rolling was one of the first actions that he took. He was convinced that there had been mismanagement and misuse of tribal funds during the previous administration, of which Michell Hicks was Principal Chief from 2003 to 2015, and launched an extensive investigation into the money trails in departments and programs throughout the tribe. 

“These truths that we’ve all known well over time but have been hidden has rocked the very foundation which allows for the people of this tribe to consent to be governed,” he said. 

Preliminary audit results show thousands of dollars and cash advances, authorized by Hicks’ administration to “parties unknown,” that were paid at ATM machines during business hours when tribal offices would have been open, Lambert said. 

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“We understand that credit cards can be used in certain emergency situations, as noted, but upon review of the transactions we noted that all transactions during the review period occurred on a business day,” Lambert read from the auditor’s report. “In addition we did not identify any of the transaction dates as a holiday. As such, tribal government offices would likely have been open to release funds. Overall, the initial findings are disturbing.” 

Though the findings are still preliminary, Lambert said, outside of wrongdoing “it’s difficult to see what other explanation could be found.” 

The ATM payouts aren’t the only suspicious items turned up in the preliminary audit, Lambert said. It also showed thousands in miscellaneous car and insurance payments, as well as thousands to clothing stores such as Banana Republic, Macy’s, White House Black Market, Victoria’s Secret, Joseph A. Bank and Oakley’s Sunglasses. 

Then, there were the charges for stretch limousine rentals, Dollywood tickets, a trip to Dorado Beach Golf Course in Puerto Rico and another to Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. Among others. 

“Imagine what we’ll find when the full report for the past 12 years comes into view,” Lambert said. “This government is in serious need of transparency, honesty and ethics. We can only get to that place when we have all the cards out on the table.”

Lambert said that the unwillingness of some departments to produce the paperwork needed for the audit tells him there’s more corruption to be found. 

He also compared his administration’s spending patterns over the past six months to those of Hicks’ administration during the same six-month period for the past four years. Since October, Lambert said, he’s spent $2,520 on business-related gas, food and travel. During that same October through March time period, Hicks averaged $16,980 between 2012 and 2015, according to numbers Lambert presented to council. 

Lambert spent 35.5 percent less for travel and training and 63 percent less in credit card charges than Hicks did during the first six months of the last budget year. 

Lambert told council that he intends to keep pursuing the audit and criminal consequences for those associated with any wrongdoing. 

“I’m working hard, and I’ll continue doing that for the full time I’m here,” he concluded as applause broke out from the audience. 

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