Clinton, OK, bank freezes Cheyenne, Arapaho tribal accounts

A Clinton, OK, bank has issued an administrative freeze on bank accounts of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes amid a passionate dispute over tribal leadership.
by Randy Ellis Published: April 28, 2012

CONCHO — A Clinton bank issued an administrative freeze on bank accounts of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma this week — prompting tribal leaders to declare a state of emergency Friday and announce that tribal assistance to the elderly, poor, children and medically needy could be drastically cut.

Tribal employees will be trimmed to a 32-hour workweek starting next week, said Lisa Liebl, a tribal spokeswoman. The tribe has several hundred employees, she said.

The tribes' Lucky Star casinos at Concho, Clinton, Canton, Watonga and Hammon are expected to continue normal operations, although that could change as tribal officials continue to evaluate the crisis, she said.

“We are presently looking at all our options and will not take our eyes off the goal of getting the funds restored and the essential governmental services provided,” disputed tribal Gov. Janice Prairie Chief-Boswell said in a prepared statement.

Leadership quarrel

The First Bank and Trust Co. of Clinton took action to freeze the accounts Tuesday amid a billowing conflict over tribal leadership.

Boswell and Leslie Wandrie-Harjo have been quarreling for more than a year over which of the two is the tribes' lawful governor.

The dispute has polarized tribal members and sparked protests and fist fights.

Caught in the middle is the First Bank and Trust Co. of Clinton, which maintains the majority of the tribes' major bank accounts, said Scott Meacham, the bank's attorney.

The governor of the tribes is listed as the authorized signatory on tribal accounts, Meacham said. Since Boswell and Harjo each claim to be governor, the bank finds itself in a quandary over whose signature it should recognize as legitimate in authorizing withdrawals or transfers of funds, he said.

The bank has asked Custer County District Judge Floyd Douglas Haught to resolve the banking issue. A hearing is set for June 8.

The specific bank accounts that were frozen were established to provide essential tribal governmental services, Liebl said.

Liebl said she didn't know the exact amount of frozen funds, but said she was told it was “millions of dollars.”

“It's definitely a jolt,” Liebl said. “These are funds used for federal programs and payrolls.”

“It's going to affect food vouchers to our elders,” she said. “We are immediately halting all travel.”

Some funds available

Liebl issued a news release Friday that contained a lengthy list of services the frozen accounts were set up to provide. The list included such things as shelter to homeless children, money to investigate child abuse and neglect, food and clothing assistance, head start education assistance, foster care programs, firefighter services and emergency medical assistance.

by Michael Baldwin
Mike Baldwin has been a sports reporter for The Oklahoman since 1982. Mike graduated from Okmulgee High School in 1974 and attended Oklahoma Christian University, graduating with a journalism degree in 1978. Mike's first job was sports editor...
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