Local News

Feds investigate Lumbee travel budget

Posted July 24, 2008 5:43 p.m. EDT
Updated July 24, 2008 6:43 p.m. EDT

— Federal authorities are looking into the travel expenses of the Lumbee Tribal Council, who have spent thousands of dollars in recent months on trips to conferences.

A WRAL investigation last month showed council members spending money from the tribe's annual housing allocation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on travel while some Lumbee live in squalor.

Credit card receipts showed 18 of the 21council members traveled to Hawaii last fall and stayed at a four-star resort on Waikiki Beach. Council members also traveled to Albuquerque, N.M., San Antonio, Texas, and Alaska in the past year, and last month they shifted $45,000 into their travel budget to help pay for a trip to Reno, Nev.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole sent information to the U.S. Attorney's Office several months ago to investigate the Lumbee housing situation, and she looked into the matter again after the WRAL story aired.

In a written statement to WRAL, a Dole spokeswoman said HUD investigators found no wrongdoing in the tribal council's spending.

"Earlier this month, HUD told Sen. Dole's office that an investigation into this matter was conducted and there was no evidence of criminal conduct and no basis for civil or administrative action," the statement said.

Randy Lewis, a Lumbee activist who has led protests against tribal officials' handling of federal housing dollars, said he has been interviewed by FBI agents about the tribe use of money.

Neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney's Office would confirm or deny any investigation of the tribe.

Tribal leaders refused to answer questions from WRAL Thursday unless they were e-mailed in advance.

A spokesman for the tribal council did say the Lumbees enacted a travel policy a couple of months ago. But one council member, who asked to remain anonymous, said it doesn't limit the number of people who can travel or the number of trips they can take.

Meanwhile, some Lumbees continue to live in substandard housing.

HUD recently cut the annual housing grant to the Lumbees from $13 million to $11.3 million. The tribe then shut down its housing rehabilitation program, with more than 1,000 tribal members on the waiting list for assistance.

"There are no houses being repaired," Lewis said.

Rachel Maynor, 74, lives in a century-old house near St. Pauls that leaks during rainstorms and lacks a bathroom. She said she has asked tribal leaders for years to provide her with a better place to live – even a used mobile home.

"They haven't done anything. Nobody has been out here. Nobody's called me," Maynor said. "All I want is something to keep the wind and the rain out of my house, and a bathroom."

But that doesn't mean end of story: Tribal members say other agencies -- including the F-B-I -- have their own investigation underway.