No charges laid in Salt River First Nation fraud investigation

No charges laid in Salt River First Nation fraud investigation
A year-long investigation into Salt River First Nation's finances has wrapped up without any charges laid, however, chief Frieda Martselos says she may pursue action against former councillors and chiefs in civil court.File photo.

Police have announced that no charges will be laid after a year-long investigation into financial irregularities at the Salt River First Nation wrapped up early last week.

The conclusion, released on July 7, comes one year after the G Division RCMP Federal Investigations Unit started reviewing thousands of pages of documents and interviewing over 20 individuals for the case.

The investigation began after a complaint of financial irregularities within the First Nation was brought forward to the Fort Smith RCMP by Chief Frieda Martselos on June 4, 2014. Former chiefs and councillors for the Salt River First Nation were accused of alleged financial mismanagement and misappropriation by the band office.

Martselos claimed when she resigned as chief in September 2011 that the First Nation had saved almost $7 million. After she was re-elected a year and a half later, she said the band had spent $8 million in surplus money during her time away, leaving $2.2-million deficit and $1.8 million in unpaid bills.

In addition, she said the band had overpaid four former councillors $279,000 in honoraria, amounting to about $60,000 each.

Martselos did not return interview requests from the Journal, but did speak to the CBC regarding the case, indicating she was disappointed by the outcome and views it as a lost opportunity for transparency.

In the interview with CBC, Martselos said she still expects the allegedly overpaid councillors to pay their dues, and is contemplating moving the case forward in civil court.

When contacted, former Salt River Chief David Poitras said he only had one comment about the results of the investigation: “I knew that’s what the outcome would be.”

Similarly, Jeannie Marie Jewell – one of the former councillors invoiced with a bill of more than $60,000 – said she was not surprised by the RCMP’s findings.

“I believe everyone felt the investigation would come out the way it did, as no one frauded the nation, from my understanding,” Jewell said. “I know when I was interviewed I was more than happy to provide all my notes, all my books and all the information they needed to help with their investigation. My attitude was and still is that when you don’t do anything wrong, what is there to fear?”
Salt River elections were in full swing when the councillors, all of whom were running for re-election, received their bills, Jewell noted.

“It is still a tactic the chief is using to keep certain members away from the opportunity to run for any position in the nation,” she said.

Members of the First Nation have not been privy to the amount of funds Salt River has spent on the initial forensic audit and the lawyer’s fees throughout the investigation, said Jewell, who identified the band’s refusal to disclose the information as another lost opportunity for transparency.

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