PIA Tribal Administrator Will Ware on Wednesday rebutted information made public when former employee Susan Harai appeared at a public hearing for unemployment benefits on Feb. 9.
“I was perplexed and surprised,” at the accusations made against me at the hearing, Ware said. “It was character assassination.”
The allegations of missing Indian Reservation Roads (IRR) grant money being used for other PIA projects was based upon, “misinterpretations and mislabeling of accounts,” according to Ware. “There was no grant money replaced,” said Ware.
“Board members resigned just one week after making allegations,” said Ware. “I instructed staff to find the deficit funds and they couldn’t find that information,” Ware added.
“There weren’t any large deficits occurring,” explained Ware.
Ware stated in a press release issued Wednesday morning, “At all times, the IRR funds Ms. Harai claims were ‘missing,’ or even worse, ‘embezzled,’ were in our PIA bank account. They were never spent on anything improper or anything that was not allowed by the IRR regulations.”
While some board members contended Ware did not bring in an independent outside auditor to investigate the tribe’s books, Ware said Lisa Taylor, who had performed financial work for PIA earlier, was available to conduct the audit. “To put out a request for proposals would have taken much longer. Plus, finding the person with the expertise to conduct a tribal audit was also necessary,” according to Ware.
“The whole incident is the result of the simple fact that a certificate of deposit (CD) was mislabeled for a short period of time. Once that error was identified, it was immediately corrected, and we fully advised the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) officials of the situation. The CD was also used as collateral but PIA’s former auditor and current Finance Director, a certified public accountant, has reviewed the federal requirements and has found nothing to prevent this practice… PIA is working with its banks to remove the IRR funds from the account being used as collateral,” according to Ware’s Wednesday release.
Ware said the tribal council members that resigned in October, “did not stick around long enough to hear the results of the audit…. board members resigned just one week after making allegations.”
When asked why he didn’t make the information public in November or December following the audit, Ware said, “Tribal members can always come in and review the information. The board would not make the information public beyond the tribe membership.”
Ware repeated his comments, made earlier, to the remaining board, “Let’s take the high road and not create dissention with the tribe and the public.”
When asked about the million dollar restaurant, referred to in closing arguments by Harai’s attorney John Hoag, Ware said, “he’s using numbers not accurately put into the accounting system. It’s not nearly as high as reported.” Ware declined to state the value of renovations made to the PIA owned Seaside Restaurant. “It was funded entirely out of PIA discretionary funds,” Ware noted.
Ware concluded by saying he and his board members have, “endured a severe case of character assassination, based upon false allegations.” He added, “We must express our deep disappointment that Ms. Harai was able to convince a few former Council members to resign and to testify against PIA in the hearing, disclosing information they learned as Council members in executive session.”