By: Angel Ellis, Director
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma–At an extraordinary session of the Muscogee (Creek) National Council on Feb. 5, 2021, NCA 21-010 was proposed and failed to pass. The legislation was considered on more than one occasion by Council but never garnered passing support from the Council.
According to the bill sponsored by Rep. Thomasene Yahola Osborn, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (US HUD) determined program funds were required to be paid back to the federal program with tribal funds because of a violation of regulations.
The MCN Office of the Principal Chief outlined the process that made the executive branch aware of the violation.
“I received a concern correspondence from a citizen with supporting documentation,” Principal Chief David Hill said. “I immediately contacted the Attorney General’s office, the Department of Housing and Lighthorse… The AG’s Office determined that this allegation warranted an investigation.”
According to Hill, the matter was investigated by tribal law enforcement.
“At the conclusion of Lighthorse’s investigation, they determined that the claim was credible and therefore it was up to HUD to investigate further.”
Under the MCN Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Mvskoke Media requested any documents related to this legislation with the MCN National Council, MCN Housing Department, the MCN Executive Branch, and US HUD.
US HUD public affairs confirmed the violation and submitted redacted documents to Mvskoke Media on Mar. 23, 2021. Mvskoke Media received copies of MCN Housing application documents and a letter from the MCN Secretary of Housing to HUD detailing the tribe’s findings.
According to the documents, the violation came through the tribe’s Mortgage Assistance Program. Records from the tribal housing department disclosed to the federal HUD program, ‘The buyer and the seller did not disclose their relationship during the application process.’ Documents indicated that this incident took place in 2017.
Through public land records and cross-referencing redacted documents, Mvskoke Media was able to identify the participating program homebuyer as Elizabeth Coale and the seller as Lucian Tiger III, a current MCN National Council representative.
HUD Regional Public Affairs Officer Scott Hudman said the program could not verify the total qualifying household.
“Based on the information provided to our office, it was unclear if the application included everyone living in the house,” Hudman said. “Because of this, total household income could not be determined.”
‘Because the Total Household Income was questionable, the family could not be found to be eligible for the program.’
HUD’s SPONAP Office determined that these discrepancies in the application violated HUD regulations CFR SS 1000.104, which requires total household income disclosure.
Rep. Tiger refuted living at the residence in Jenks but did not deny selling the home to Coale on July 28, 2017.
“I was only a resident at the address in December of 2017,” Tiger said.
However, voter registration with the State of Oklahoma and the tribe lists Tiger’s residence at the Jenks home with the same address as Mortgage assistance applicant Coale.
Tiger said he felt the administration could have avoided this infraction.
“..it is my opinion that had the administration allowed the A.G.’s Office to dispute this finding, HUD would have reversed their decision,” Tiger said. “I feel that this investigation was politically motivated because since the inception of the MAP, housing has only audited one file, Ms. Coale.”
Mvskoke Media contacted all members of the National Council to determine what information was presented to them about the violation before they voted on NCA 21-010.
Several members who voted no on the legislation stated that the internal fact-finding committee found no wrongdoing, and based on the A.G. opinion, they did not support the legislation.
Rep. James Jennings said, “Council Fact-Finding Committee found no findings, and the A.G. offered an opinion to that effect.”
Jennings was not the only representative not in favor of the legislation.
“I voted ‘No,’ due to the Fact-Finding Committee’s investigation and report of no wrongdoing,’ Rep. Anna Marshal said.
Rep. Joe Hicks, a member of the Fact-Finding Committee, said his vote was based on that committee’s evidence.
‘I was able to see all evidence in the investigation that was presented before us,’ Hicks said. ‘It was my conclusion and opinion that there was no wrongdoing by any persons or program involved in the investigation.’
Hicks called the legislation unnecessary.
“It is my understanding that legislation was not needed, and the monies still got paid,” Hicks said. “I feel this was all politically guided… That is why I voted no.”
Rep. Darrell Proctor did not support the legislation.
“I voted against the legislation based on facts that were presented in the Fact-Finding Committee meeting,” Proctor said.
Rep. Adam Jones did not support the legislation.
“I voted no,” Jones said. “After the fact-finding investigation, there were no findings.”
Rep. William Lowe also cited the attorney general.
“The confidential report from the Fact-Finding committee showed no findings,” Lowe said. “We received an opinion from the A.G., that specified the same.”
A statement from Rep. Charles McHenry explained his shift in opinion when the original bill was reconsidered as NCA 21-013 on Feb. 25, but failed again to garner support from Council.
On Feb. 5, his voting record showed he turned down the legislation but later voted in favor of passing legislation to pay the funds.
‘I voted no with the information I had,’ McHenry said. ‘Later (I) voted yes due to the repercussions and circumstances that might take place if the money was not paid back.’
Representatives that voted yes all did so based on HUD’s letter and their desire not to jeopardize future HUD funding.
“I voted yes on NCA 21-010 because the Nation received a letter from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requesting the Nation pay back $25,000 and if it was not paid back, HUD could consider an enforcement action against the Nation,” Rep. Robert Hufft said.
Osborn cited housing experience in her statement.
“I was the sponsor of NCA 21-010, which I supported with a yes vote,” Osborn said. “Since I have 25 years of housing experience, I knew non-payment could possibly jeopardize future funding.”
She also explained the materials MCN NC used to consider their decisions.
“The National Council was provided a copy of a letter from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,” Osborn said. “It stated, ‘Should the Council not approve the legislation to repay the funds from a non-Federal source, the SPONAP office would be required to the follow the regulations at 24 CFR 1000.532 to pursue this matter, which is considered an enforcement action against the Nation or refer the matter to the Office of Inspector General.’ ”
Rep. Travis Scott said supporting the legislation was a matter of transparency to the people.
“I supported to expend the funds for the legislation based on the documents provided to National Council; also Council has to approve all expenditures according to law unless deemed an emergency for the Controllers Act to expend funds,” Scott said. “I am not part of the fact-finding committee, so I can’t comment on the findings of the committee.”
“Approval of this legislation would allow another citizen to benefit from the program, so I voted to expend the funds for the citizens’ benefit.”
Rep. Mark Randolph also expressed concern for protecting federal program funding.
“I voted in favor to pay the money in the amount of $25,000,” Randolph said. “My concern was putting the Nation’s Housing funding in possible jeopardy after receiving a formal request from HUD… I do not feel the $25,000 in question is worth the Nation losing possibly millions in future funding.”
He received a copy of a letter requesting the funds be repaid before voting on the measure.
“The only formal documentation I saw before the vote was the letter from HUD official requesting the $25,000 from Mortgage Assistance be paid back by the Nation.”
Mvskoke Media contacted the MCN AG’s office for an opinion on the matter.
“HUD determined that an infraction was committed by the MCN Housing Department, not the mortgage assistance recipient,” MCN Attorney General Roger Wiley said. “No violations of Muscogee (Creek) Nation law have been identified, and I do not anticipate further legal action.”
Mvskoke Media also contacted the executive branch to find out what funds were used to pay the violation.
“Since the proposed bills NCA 21-010, NCA 21-013, and NCA 21-019 were not approved by the National Council, and due to a deadline in this matter, I felt that this rose to the level of emergency,” Hill said.
According to Hill, a failure to comply with payment could jeopardize the program’s federal funding.
“I approached the Attorney General’s Office to determine whether this would qualify under the Controllers Act,” Hill said. “Upon his recommendation, I authorized the Controller to repay the MCN IHBG LOCCS using tribal funds.”
The MCN repaid funds utilized by Coale to purchase the home from Tiger to the MCN Mortgage lending assistance program on Mar. 16, 2021.
Hill said measures had been put in place to prevent violations such as this one in the future.
“For all of our programs, we hope that our policies and procedures are strong enough to catch and identify any irregular activity,” Hill said. “Unfortunately, sometimes we make mistakes, and we miss something.”
Because of the incident, tribal procedures have changed.
“… there is now an independent review for the beginning and end of this application process,” Hill said. “This secondary review will allow fresh eyes to look at every application.”
“These types of steps should deter any bad actors from attempting to influence our outcomes.”
The MCN repaid funds utilized by Coale to purchase the home from Tiger to the MCN Mortgage lending assistance program on Mar. 16, 2021. To view investigative documents used in this article click here.