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Ethics accusation made against Rosebud president over land deal 7-07

ROSEBUD, S.D. (AP) - Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Rodney Bordeaux faces possible suspension or removal from office if he is found guilty of ethics violations by the tribal council for his participation in a controversial $1 million tribal land purchase.

Opponents claim Bordeaux misused tribal funds and violated the tribal constitution and bylaws by purchasing 800 acres in southwest Todd County without approval from the tribal council.

Critics also say Bordeaux paid an inflated price compared to appraisals of neighboring land.

Bordeaux insists he did nothing wrong, saying the Tribal Land Enterprise, of which he is a director, approved the purchase.

He said that after the council denied two requests to mortgage other tribal property to pay for the purchase, he found other tribal funds with which to buy the Zibell Ranch.

Former RST President Charlie Colombe said Bordeaux actually asked for permission to buy the land, not for a mortgage. Colombe said Bordeaux was required to ask tribal council permission to buy the land even with the Tribal Land Enterprise's support.

After TLE won the land at auction, Bordeaux paid $100,000 in earnest money from the tribe for the land. He said he then went to the tribal council to get the mortgage for the other $900,000.

Tribal council member Cyril Scott said he never heard Bordeaux ask for permission to take out a mortgage, but that instead, Bordeaux asked for permission to buy the land.

The council voted down the request twice, but Bordeaux went through with the purchase anyway, Scott said.

“He went against the council directive. That's the moral of the story,” Scott said.

Colombe said Bordeaux committed a second offense when he spent the earnest money without authorization.

Bordeaux said he does not need the board's approval to buy land but would need its permission to borrow money or take out a mortgage. He said the TLE makes the final decisions about land purchases. The TLE approved the Zibell Ranch purchase.

However, Colombe said, the TLE is a subsidiary entity of the tribal council, and its decisions must be approved by the council.

Webster Two Hawk Sr. filed petitions against Bordeaux and also against Fern Bordeaux and Michael Boltz. They are tribal council members and relatives of Bordeaux who supported the purchase.

Two Hawk said the amount that the TLE agreed to pay for the land is more than $700,000 above what locally appraised property is selling for.

The TLE agreed to a price of $1,250 per acre. Two Hawk wrote in his complaint that the Bureau of Indian Affairs has appraised neighboring properties at slightly more than $300 per acre.

Colombe said that last summer, he bought comparable land only six miles from the Zibell Ranch for $275 per acre.

Calvin Waln, Tribal Land Enterprise executive, said an appraisal by the TLE's in-house appraiser found the land to be worth about $800 per acre.

Bordeaux said a maximum amount for a TLE bid was not set and that the mortgage was not asked for before the auction because the tribal council could not convene a quorum at the meetings before the auction.

He said the purchase price increased because the TLE got caught in a bidding war with a millionaire from New Mexico. He said the land is valuable because it could be used for pheasant hunting and because the Keya Paha River flows through it.

“It's valuable land, and when you're at auction, you can't really stay at the appraised price,” Bordeaux said. “It was a high cost, and when you are in a bidding process against millionaires, it depends on how much you want the land.”

Bordeaux said the purpose of the purchase is to reclaim former tribal land to return the reservation back to its size before South Dakota's statehood.

“We are just trying to restore our land base,” he said.

Opponents say they agree with Bordeaux's plans to increase the size of tribal land but are angry that he went ahead without the council's approval.

“It was a clear violation. When tribal council says no, no means no,” said Todd Fast Horse, former executive secretary and chief of staff for Colombe.

In June, shareholders of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe met to vote on the proposed land deal. Individual members of the tribe who own shares voted in favor of buying the land, but the tribal council, which controls the shares that are owned by the tribe itself, outvoted the individual members and opted not to buy the land.

Bordeaux proceeded with the purchase by using other tribal funds.

“It's already purchased,” he said. “It's a done deal.”

Bordeaux said he is not worried about what will happen at a July 30 hearing because he went before the ethics commission, which cleared him of the charges but also sent the issue to the tribal council for another hearing.

“The ethics commission didn't find any wrongdoing on my part, so I feel vindicated by them,” he said.

The ethics commission sent a letter to the tribal council in May saying the council should decide the matter because it was a constitutional issue, not an ethical issue.

Bordeaux said the tribal council has little or no power to censure or remove him in this case. He also said he believes they will agree with the ethics commission.

However, Fast Horse and Two Hawk both said that the tribal council has the right to censure or suspend Bordeaux from office.

Fast Horse said the tribal constitution and bylaws state that a council member or president who is found guilty of misconduct in tribal affairs can be removed from office and be barred from running for office again.

Two Hawk said he hopes the council will suspend Bordeaux without pay for the remainder of his term in office.

Tribal council member Scott voted against the land deal both times it came to the council but said he will withhold judgment until the hearing.

“There hasn't been a verdict, and there hasn't been a judgment,” he said. “I am to uphold the constitution, and I will do so if we find a violation of our constitution.”

Robert Moore is a tribal council member and a TLE director who voted against the purchase in the two previous council votes. He refused to comment on possible sanctions against Bordeaux.

“It's important that whatever the council hears that we hear everything objectively and fairly and we look at the merits of our constitution and how the tribe and the tribal council and elected leaders uphold their duties of office,” he said.

Bordeaux, who has been president for two years, is facing re-election this October. He said those who have made the allegations are bitter about a political defeat in 2005 and are eager to have him removed from office.

“This is an ongoing effort on their behalf. They just aren't happy they were defeated,” Bordeaux said.

Colombe, who was defeated by Bordeaux in 2005, said he does not plan to enter this year's race.