Housing official faces sentencing

Richard Walker
1/26/05

SEATTLE - A former Tulalip housing chairman will be sentenced Feb. 5 in
federal court for embezzling more than $23,000 from the Tulalip Housing
Authority.

Dale Michael Jones, 62, of Marysville, Wash. pleaded guilty in U.S.
District Court Oct. 29 to embezzlement of funds from an American Indian
government. Jones served as chairman of the Tulalip Tribal Housing Board of
Commissioners from 1993 - 2002.

In his plea agreement, Jones admitted that he collected a $100 or $200
daily stipend for meetings and travel, as well as his salary as coordinator
of recreation programs for children. Double payment is prohibited by tribal
ordinance.

From February 1999 to November 2002 Jones was illegally paid more than
$23,000, according to court records.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Jones will have to repay $23,500
when sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Robert S. Lasnik. Embezzlement
of funds from a tribal government is punishable by up to 10 years in prison
and $250,000 fine.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development's
Office of Inspector General and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney J.
Tate London.

An examination of the Tulalip Housing Authority's financial records by the
Northwest office of Native American Programs revealed that the Tulalip
Housing Board of Commissioners is responsible for nearly $500,000 in
unallowable costs. In August, HUD put Tulalip on notice that federal
housing funds were in jeopardy because of long-term "deep performance
problems leading to fraud, waste and mismanagement."

Tulalip Tribes Chairman Stan Jones Sr., who is Dale Jones' brother, said
HUD shares responsibility for allowing the double payments to happen.
"We've been meeting with HUD all along," Chairman Jones said. "If there's
an issue, they need to bring that to a closure with the tribe. No 'little
bit here, little bit there' and come back five years later and say there's
a problem."

Jones questions whether payments to commissioners are improper. "The
housing authority is separate [from other tribal agencies]," Jones said. He
said housing commissioners should be reimbursed for business-related travel
and other expenses.

Jones said three housing commissioners are paying back the payments they
received for serving on the housing board. But he said HUD cracked down on
his brother because he purchased night-vision binoculars with housing
funds.

Chairman Jones defended the purchase, saying they were purchased for
surveillance of possible drug activity in housing authority homes.

Dale Jones was one of three Northwest tribal officials busted for
embezzlement in 2004.

Akhim Joseph Singh, 36, of Missoula, Mont., was sentenced Oct. 21 to six
months of home confinement and one year of probation.

Until July 2003 Singh was project manager of the Lummi Nation's housing
division. In that capacity, he administered federal funds from HUD,
including the award and supervision of contracts for work performed for
Lummi.

An annual audit by Lummi revealed Singh had circumvented the competitive
bid process and awarded 12 construction-related contracts to three
companies he controlled. Singh partially performed on these contracts, but
received full payment and converted the funds to his own use, resulting in
a loss to Lummi of about $30,000.

At sentencing, Singh apologized for his "catastrophic meltdown of
integrity" and said he wanted to do "whatever it takes to make things
right," U.S. Attorney's spokeswoman Emily Langlie reported. Singh has since
repaid Lummi.

District Court Judge Lasnik told Singh his crime was "like a rock thrown in
a pond with ripples going out to increase the level of distrust" regarding
fraud and abuse of funds that go to American Indian governments, Langlie
reported.

Lummi Chairman Darrell Hillaire said Singh's crimes "sent us reeling"
because he had been a trusted employee. "He treated everyone fairly and
gave us the extra effort," Hillaire said.

Hillaire said the "flaw" in the system was having too much authority vested
in one person. Singh was responsible for contracting, financial management,
project management and hiring. Those responsibilities have been divided "so
there is a system of checks and balances," Hillaire said.

On Aug. 13, a Chehalis tribal administrator was sentenced for taking a
$15,000 kickback from a contractor.

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton sentenced Charanjit Singh Sodhi
of Olympia to two months of home confinement, 250 hours of community
service, $30,000 restitution and two years of probation.

The sentence was recommended by prosecutors and Leighton agreed, saying
crimes by public officials in fiduciary positions are very serious and such
defendants need to be held accountable.

Sodhi was director of Natural Resources for the Chehalis Indian Tribe until
2002. In that capacity, he administered federal funds from the Bureau of
Indian Affairs, including the award and supervision of contracts for work
performed for Chehalis.

In April 2001, Sodhi awarded a $30,000 contract for a report about a water
resource and survey technician training program being conducted by
Chehalis. Unknown to Chehalis and the BIA, Sodhi arranged a $15,000
kickback of BIA funds paid to the contractor. Sodhi used the funds for his
personal expenses.

The case was investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by Assistant U.S.
Attorney Kurt P. Hermanns.

- Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash.
Contact him at (360) 378-6289 or irishmex2000@yahoo.com.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page