Local BIA staff first suggested stopping funding in the 1990s. Even after the superintendent at the nearest BIA office visited the lake within a year of the building's conversion, hatchery money kept flowing.
Several subordinates "described an atmosphere ... where they were discouraged from providing negative feedback about the tribes they were monitoring," according to an investigative report by Interior's inspector general. One employee said he was advised by a supervisor to sign an approving letter because his boss "wanted tribes to be successful."
Hatchery funds were finally cut off in 2006, after an official in the bureau's Western regional office asked how many fish had been hatched. Eventually, it emerged that Summit Lake Paiute leaders had taken the money and made nonrefundable deposits in a failed bid to buy land near the tribe's reservation in mountainous northwestern Nevada.
The agency demanded that the Summit Lake Paiute reimburse $927,000. The tribe appealed for debt relief.
In 2011, the two sides settled. The tribe would have to pay back only $108,510. Then the agency forgave the entire debt because, according to BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling, the tribe had no way to pay it.
Indeed, agencies recoup a small fraction of what they conclude tribes owe.
Since fiscal year 2008, the BIA and the Bureau of Indian Education have collected only $2.3 million of nearly $69 million in questionable expenditures, according to financial records. In several cases, the bureaus were legally barred from recouping money because they waited too long.
Since 2003, auditors concluded that 79 tribes or Indian organizations couldn't justify $33 million of Environmental Protection Agency money they spent. EPA said it had recouped "approximately $3 million" since October 2007.
Indian Affairs and Indian Education can't legally reduce funding even to corrupt governments. Funding levels are set by federal law, regardless of how well a tribe is managed.