Winnebago council members resign following release of audit
Two Winnebago tribal council members have resigned and another remains suspended following the release of a report last week that showed council members had given themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses and tribal casino gifts.
And on Tuesday, tribal members elected a new council member who promised to take a strong stance against exorbitant spending on council members’ salaries and benefits. With 176 votes, Vincent Bass received 51 percent of the vote in a field of 10 candidates.
“I’m all for lowering salaries, across the board, not just for council members,” he told people gathered at a tribal meeting Wednesday. “I want to take that money back where it’s being misspent and put it back in our children and elders programs.”
Bass was elected to the seat left vacant by former tribal council vice chairman Darwin Snyder, who resigned in January after he was accused of failing to properly authorize issuance of prepaid debit cards to council members.
On Wednesday, FBI spokeswoman Sandy Breault declined to comment on reports that her agency had begun an investigation into alleged corruption by tribal council members.
“Unfortunately, we can’t comment on it because it is an ongoing investigation,” she said. “As soon as anything becomes public knowledge, we would be able to release something at that time.”
Council members Travis Mallory and Morgan Earth resigned their positions this week. Earth resigned due to health reasons, said tribal chairman John Blackhawk. Mallory didn’t give a reason for his resignation, Blackhawk said.
The council suspended two members last week, Thomas Snowball Sr. and Louis Houghton Jr., after a tribal investigative committee released its report. The Winnebago tribal council empowered the special investigation and fact-finding committee to look into allegations of corruption.
The committee’s report found council members had received free hotel rooms, meals and prepaid debit cards from the tribe’s WinnaVegas Casino in Sloan, Iowa, and handed tens of thousands of dollars in recent years to tribal members, many of whom were likely voters, through loans and discretionary grants.
The tribal council held an ethics hearing on complaints filed against Snowball and Houghton on Wednesday. The council failed to pass a resolution seeking the removal of Houghton by a vote of 2-3. Snowball remains suspended after members tabled a resolution seeking his removal.
Blackhawk declined to say how he voted on the resolution to remove Houghton from the council but said he didn’t believe there was sufficient evidence justifying Houghton’s removal.
“He was exonerated,” he said.
Blackhawk said the council has taken no further action on the investigative committee’s report, though he said last week that the tribal council plans to commission a forensic audit to further examine the committee’s findings. The report indicated some council members are paid salaries of over $100,000 a year.
Other allegations in the tribal investigative committee’s report say the council gave itself a 35 percent salary increase one year, at least one council member gave loans to family members, and council members received bonuses with no evidence they were approved by the council.
A community group in Winnebago is calling on five of the remaining tribal council members – Blackhawk, Houghton, Snowball, Larry Payer and Charles Aldrich — to resign their positions or risk being recalled.
The community group, Winnebago Tribe for the People, has begun circulating petitions seeking the recall of the five council members. They are not targeting Darla LaPointe, who was recently elected, and Bass.
The group’s leaders say they have about half the petition signatures they need to put the recall to a vote of the tribe’s members. The group is alleging the council members stole from tribal coffers when they approved hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bonuses, raises and casino gifts in recent years.
One of the community group’s leaders, Keely Bassette, said the group was frustrated by the council’s unwillingness to take responsibility for its actions and oust members who’ve been shown to have misappropriated funds.
“At this point, it’s about those men and not what’s good for the people,” she said.
“They’re just hanging on like ticks.”
Sound familiar Mashpee?