St. Marks was re-elected as chairman at two subsequent special elections, and in each instance quickly removed from office by a vote of the tribal business committee. A significant number of St. Marks supporters have also lost their jobs working at various tribal government offices.
Federal investigators have ordered Montana's Chippewa Cree Tribe to pay its chairman, Ken St. Marks, nearly $650,000 in compensation for "prohibited reprisal(s)" taken against him dating back to March 2013.
St. Marks was elected by a majority vote of tribal members to serve as Chippewa Cree Business Committee chairman in November 2012, but was removed from office four months later by a unanimous vote of the business committee.
Business committee members claimed St. Marks had engaged in "gross misconduct," and specifically charged him with seven violations of tribal laws, including sexual harassment, the unauthorized purchase of a vehicle using tribal funds, and unlawfully hiring and dismissing tribal employees.
St. Marks has always contended his dismissal was a punitive action taken by the business committee in retaliation for his cooperation with federal authorities investigating tribal corruption.
On April 24, the U.S. Office of the Inspector General issued a final report, finding that St. Marks' removal from office was motivated by his disclosures to authorities from the Inspector General's Office and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
"(The) Chippewa Cree Tribe acted wrongfully toward St. Marks," the Inspector General's Office's report states. "Moreover, the numerous criminal indictments and convictions of Chippewa Cree Tribe employees and officials create significant concern for the Department about the welfare of the Chippewa Cree Tribe's government and its members."
The report goes on to state that the Chippewa Cree Tribe "failed to substantiate … with clear and convincing evidence" any of the seven charges leveled against St. Marks as justification for his removal from office March 21, 2013. OP: SURPRISE!
The report states St. Mark's cooperation with federal investigators was a protected disclosure under the "whistle-blower provisions" of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and that there is ample evidence suggesting St. Mark's removal was connected to that cooperation. According to federal documents, the Chippewa Cree Tribe received $27.5 million in ARRA funding in 2009 and 2010 to be applied to work on a regional water project.
The Inspector General's Office has ordered the Chippewa Cree Tribe to pay St. Marks $277,333 in back pay, $202,667 in front pay to the end of his term of office in November 2016, $165,475 in compensation for his legal fees, and $2,956 for travel expenses.
Federal authorities stopped short of ordering the tribe to reinstate St. Marks, and declined to order any compensatory damages. The tribe has 60 days to appeal the $648,000 decisio