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Patrick Springer, Published April 08 2010

Rally today seeks to remove tribal chairman amid finance inquiry

Members of the Sisseton-Wahpeton tribe will rally today and call for the removal of a tribal chairman who is part of an inquiry involving the tribe’s finances.

A group of about 100 tribal members is expected for the 10 a.m. rally at tribal headquarters to demand Michael Selvage’s removal, organizer Michael J. Roberts said Wednesday.

Messages left Wednesday with Selvage’s office and the tribe’s attorney seeking comment were not returned. The tribe’s headquarters are in Agency Village, S.D., near Sisseton, S.D., about 90 miles south of Fargo.

Selvage is mentioned in a recent letter sent by criminal investigators for the Internal Revenue Service in a broad request for documents involving tribal business operations and finances from Jan. 1, 2005, through Dec. 31, 2009.

Among other items, IRS investigators are seeking information about business dealings involving Selvage, Edward Red Owl and Red Shield Inc. with tribal enterprises, including Dakota Magic Casino near Hankinson, N.D., as well as the tribal college and housing program.

A spokeswoman for the IRS in Sioux Falls, S.D., declined to comment on the investigation, except to acknowledge that a letter dated March 11 was sent to the tribe seeking information.

Roberts, fired last fall from his job overseeing tribal casinos after he brought allegations of financial wrongdoing to the tribal council, has emerged as a vocal critic of the tribe’s governance.

If the tribal council refuses to remove Selvage, Roberts and others are prepared to immediately begin circulating petitions to try to recall him.

“He’s the cause of all the problems we’ve been having,” Roberts said. Tribal records, including minutes of tribal council meetings, indicate the tribe has been moving money around to make up for cash shortfalls in certain areas, he said.

Roberts, who is an enrolled member of the tribe, had asked for “whistleblower” protection from the tribe last fall before he was fired.

A handbill that is being circulated asks members of the tribe to ask their leaders a series of questions, including details about possible cost overruns of a health care center and Selvage’s dealings with tribal casinos.

The tribal council has failed to exercise adequate oversight over many of the tribe’s financial operations, Roberts said.

“We don’t have any leadership,” he said. “We have politicians.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522