Feds claim false billing by Menominee Nation (April 3, 2006)

Apr 03., 2007

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (AP) - The federal government sued the Menominee tribe's business arm Tuesday, alleging it falsely billed the Bureau of Indian Affairs for fire suppression and roadwork while spending more than $1 million for unauthorized purposes.

Menominee Tribal Enterprises needed to replace its aging equipment, so it bought a road grader, backhoe, snow plow and pickup truck and built a garage instead of using the money to pay for road crews and other work, the government alleges.

The civil lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Green Bay against MTE and two individuals - Marshall Pecore and Conrad Waniger.

It seeks triple the amount of the damages, as well as civil fines, fees and costs under the False Claims Act. It didn't elaborate on a total dollar amount for its five claims but seeks a jury trial because of the alleged breach of contracts.

Messages left by The Associated Press Tuesday for Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Larsen were not returned, nor was a call to the office or the home of MTE president Adrian Miller.

Waniger, a forest harvesting contractor who was employed by MTE as its forest manager, said when reached at home that he had not seen the lawsuit and did not have legal representation yet.

``I don't know what the tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs are arguing about,'' he said.

Pecore, who as the tribe's chief forester is responsible for overall management of the forest including expenditure of BIA funds, also declined comment except to say he had known about the impending lawsuit for about a week.

The lawsuit stems from an investigation by the Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The government alleges that from May 1998 to September 2002 the MTE, which operates a tribal sawmill for profit, had contracts with the BIA to perform road and forestry work within the tribal forest.

MTE spent over $700,000 in BIA funds to purchase the heavy equipment and to construct the garage, the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, because of the company's poor financial status by March 13, 2001, Pecore and Waniger proposed using BIA fire funds to pay the legitimate expenses of its road crews, including employee wages.

BIA Trust Forester David Congos brought his concerns to Pecore about the proposal, but the MTE began billing the federal government for the fire prevention work allegedly done, the lawsuit states.

Congos' spot checks later revealed that in many instances the work had not been performed and had been double or triple billed to multiple invoices for the same work, the lawsuit states.

Instead, that money, according to the lawsuit, was used to pay roads crews for performing usual road maintenance work, which continued until the BIA refused to accept the invoices.

  Pecore's lawyer, Glenn Reynolds of Madison, did not immediately return a message left at his office by The Associated Press, seeking comment.