Court rules in Jicarilla funds case

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has ruled that the federal government owes the Jicarilla Apache Nation more than $21 million because the Bureau of Indian Affairs mismanaged funds it held in trust for the northern New Mexico tribe.

The amount awarded represents less than a quarter of the $103.8 million the tribe felt it was owed. Tribal officials were not immediately available Monday for comment.

In an opinion issued Monday by Judge Francis M. Allegra, the BIA “grossly mismanaged the Nation’s funds … thereby breaching its fiduciary obligations to the Nation, and entitling plaintiff to damages in the amount of $21,017,491.99.”

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From Feb. 22, 1974, through Sept. 30, 1992, the BIA held funds in trust for Jicarilla and was primarily responsible for managing those funds.

The tribe sued the federal government in 2002, claiming the BIA had mismanaged those funds.

Specifically, the tribe said the BIA: Failed to invest Jicarilla’s trust monies prudently so as to obtain an appropriate return; made unauthorized disbursements of Jicarilla’s trust monies; took too long to deposit funds received for Jicarilla into interest-bearing trust accounts; and charged Jicarilla interest for covering overdrafts on Jicarilla’s trust accounts that were caused by the federal government.

The BIA is the Interior Department agency that manages the 55.7 million acres of land held in trust for American Indians. The federal government has long been dealing with claims by Native Americans that assets held in trust for them by the U.S. government were mismanaged.

In 1996, Native American representatives filed a massive class-action suit against the federal government, claiming it had incorrectly accounted for income from trust assets.

That case, which became known as Corbell v. Salazar, was settled for $3.4 billion in 2009, with $1.4 billion going to the plaintiffs and $2 billion allocated to repurchase certain lands and return them to tribal ownership.

The Jicarilla Apache Nation has more than 3,000 members and comprises approximately 900,000 acres in northern New Mexico. The majority of the Jicarillas live in Dulce, near the Colorado border.

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