WRAL Investigates

'We've got to find that money:' NC tribe accused of misusing taxpayer funds

Posted February 20

— North Carolina’s Coharie Indian Tribe has received millions of dollars in federal funding over the years, including stimulus money for housing. One tribal member is questioning the group’s finances, accusing it of nepotism, misspending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, forging checks and not documenting expenses.

Based in Harnett and Sampson counties, the Coharies have fewer than 3,000 members and are one of eight North American tribes in the state. Randy Davis says he holds deep family ties to the tribe and feels deeply divided over its heritage.

“I wouldn’t want to be part of that tribe,” Davis said. “The real tribe is the Croatan Indians.”

That resentment, in part, pushed Davis to dig into Coharie Intra-Tribal Council dealings. He recorded meetings, uploaded the videos to YouTube and questioned how federal money was spent.

For years, the tribe has spent U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant money to rehabilitate low-income homes, provide down payments, and pay for administrative staff and upkeep at the headquarters in Clinton. Tribal leaders also used HUD money to buy a local restaurant, with the eventual goal of reselling it or turning it into senior housing.

Coharie board member Maretta Brewington followed Davis' lead in questioning the tribe's handling of grants and admits that she has “been known to get under their skin.”

“You have taxpayers paying taxes and government money being spent for people that are not doing their job,” she said.

During a 2012 meeting, Coharie Sampson Board Chairman Vinnie Bryant talked about the thousands of dollars in missing HUD money.

“As of 2010, there's approximately $700,000 unaccounted for. I'd be kind of curious to see where that unaccounted money ended up, whether it's canceled checks … We've got to find that money. Otherwise, I'm going to be lynched,” he said.

Bryant now tells WRAL Investigates that he was half-joking about the unanswered questions.

“I’m held accountable to the community. If I have a community member stating that, it’s my duty to the community to try to dig into where that funding went,” Bryant said.

During the meeting, fellow member Isabell Freeman Elliott urged the board to stop dwelling on questions of missing money.

“We keep digging up old stuff. We need to move forward. We keep digging and digging until we dig ourselves right out of a tribe,” she said.

Freeman Elliott clarified her comments to WRAL Investigates, saying she simply wanted professional auditors to deal with money questions, not board members.

A HUD monitoring report confirms a laundry list of problems with federal housing money in 2010, including forged checks, money spent without documentation and no-bid contracts.

“Personally, then, I do not think there was enough checks and balances in place, no,” said Bryant, who took his leadership role after the 2010 money questions.

Current Coharie leaders say they addressed the problems by firing administrator Elizabeth Maynor and adding new layers of accountability. Greg Jacobs took over the books in 2011.

“There were some flaws in policies, a right many flaws,” Jacobs said. “From day one when I got here, it was to put the people back in control of the organization.”

After the critical audit, HUD ordered the Coharie to institute new protocols and pay back more than $50,000. Tribal leaders contend initial allegations of missing money were overblown.

“The auditor (came), and if he’s an auditor at all, he’s going to catch that kind of money missing. You just can’t miss $700,000,” said tribal leader Freddie Carter.

With penalties, federal money slowed, but never stopped flowing. The Coharie Intra-Tribal Council now receives a little more than $500,000 a year, but its critics aren't going away.

“I think there needs to be a complete overhaul of the staff and the organization,” Brewington said.

Tribal leaders say they will learn from past financial errors and hope to change the focus to the future.

“I love this tribe. This tribe was having problems, and I’ve done everything I could to put it back on its feet,” Jacobs said.

As the Coharie tribe tries to move forward, the questions keep coming. Tribal leaders say they have received calls from the governor's office, the attorney general's office and Indian Affairs.

The latest HUD monitoring report shows the federal government still has open questions about the Coharie's handling of taxpayer money. The ongoing questions focus on a lack of documentation and unclear increases in construction contracts. Tribal leaders say they continue to address those issues.

27 Comments

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  • Jump1 Feb 26, 3:42 p.m.

    During the meeting, fellow member Isabell Freeman Elliott urged the board to stop dwelling on questions of missing money. Seems like she has something to hide, like the money. There needs to be an investigation by the government as to what did happen to the money, each of the board members is responsible for its use.

  • Danny22 Feb 21, 7:15 p.m.

    I'm amazed that folks on here think it's okay to steal. There are NO excuses, no matter who you are.

  • diana123 Feb 21, 4:34 p.m.

    oh please. a grain of sand compared to what the anglo saxon did to the native american from disease to slaughter.

  • jancaa Feb 21, 4:16 p.m.

    I am native American and I have never been giving anything by the government or any type of welfare. I have worked bought My own homes and cars. Heck I also bought 8 acres of land that was for a fact stolen from my ancestors. Yes I said stolen. Plus I pay taxes on my land.. so when u people with your negative remarks talk about my tribe no what u r talking about...and we r the Coharie Indian people not them Indians how would u like me snapping remarks at your race and the railroad stuff well We American Indians didn't invite u here nor the pilgrims... And every race in America receives hud and section 8 housing for low income individuals.

  • djofraleigh Feb 21, 3:17 p.m.

    Glad it is someone of "heritage" asking and seeking honesty, transparent use of federal monies given by the Federal government.

  • bluegray Feb 21, 2:58 p.m.

    They received peanuts.
    I wish the people up in arms here were this upset when plane loads of $100 dollar bills disappeared in Iraq.

  • Gidder Dun Feb 21, 2:54 p.m.

    We owe them nothing. It's called the "spoils of war". We fought a war and they lost. Harsh... View More

    — Posted by sidecutter

    Maybe you need to look at history again!!!! The Native American Indians were forced off their land by the WHITE man who took it by force not war!!! As for you owing anything to my people you are right but YOUR government does so get over it.

  • stymieindurham Feb 21, 2:36 p.m.

    Why do we owe them anything?!
    ==============================

    I don't owe them anything!!! You can give them all you want. But, don't do it in my name.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Feb 21, 1:53 p.m.

    I don't understand why our government gives out money, then doesn't follow up behind to ensure it's adequately audited and distributed.

    No wonder so much scam goes on while our taxes go up and up and up.

    It's insane!!!

  • sidecutter Feb 21, 1:52 p.m.

    We owe them nothing. It's called the "spoils of war". We fought a war and they lost. Harsh maybe, but reality

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