Leech Lake secretary-treasurer faces recall hearing

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The Leech Lake Tribal Council will decide as early as next week the fate of Tribal Secretary-Treasurer Mike Bongo, who is under fire for making a questionable multi-million dollar loan to a local businessman.

Bongo is accused of taking $2.4 million from the tribal treasury and loaning it to a Walker businessman. The tribal constitution says that kind of transaction requires the approval of the full tribal council and the signature of the tribal chairman and the secretary-treasurer. But Bongo authorized the secret deal on his own and his was the only signature on the loan.

The tribal council hired former U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug to investigate the loan. Lillehaug’s report concluded that Bongo knowingly and negligently violated the band’s laws and policies.

The recipient of the loan was Bill Bieloh. He was a well known Walker resident, and the founder of a big summer classic rock concert event in Walker called Moondance Jam. The big twist to this story is that Bieloh died of a massive heart attack in September, just a week after signing the loan with Bongo.

According to Lillehaug’s report, Bieloh was supposed to have taken out a million dollar life insurance policy as a condition of the loan, but he had only a $500,000 policy when the deal was signed. Tribal officials say it’s now unclear whether they’ll be able to recover any of the money from Bieloh’s estate.

The money came from a $3.5 million payment the band received from Enbridge Energy. The payment gave the company a right-of-way to run an oil pipeline across the reservation.

Lillehaug’s report did not find any evidence that Bongo or anyone else involved in the loan benefited personally from the transaction. In several public meetings about the controversy, Bongo defended the loan, calling it an investment for the tribe, since the tribe was earning eight percent interest.

A petition signed by hundreds of band members charges Bongo with malfeasance in the handling of tribal affairs, dereliction or neglect of duty, refusal to comply with the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe’s constitution and violation of the tribal laws of Leech Lake.

A tribal council hearing on the matter is set for Wednesday. Tribal leaders could vote to remove Bongo from office, or authorize a recall election.

  • Donald goggleye

    one huge detail that most of the off reservation public on not aware of is the amount of the loan payments and the amount of profit that moondance makes.

    the loan payments where around 460,000 per year. the profit for moondance was only 340,000 to 360,000.

    Also the land appraiser that did the actual appraisal of the moondance property inflated the value significantly, this person was also bielohs brother in law.

    also, knowledge of this deal was kept from the other members of the tribal council and away from the band members themselves. only a few people knew of the deal.

    there is so much more to this so much more!

    what i see is a greedy person trying to take advantage of his position.

  • darrin

    what i dont understand is why steal from your own people? its those kind of actions that hurt the tribe as whole. and when its time for the next generation to step in, the cycle continues! when does it end?