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Leech Lake Band of OjibweElection special election removes secretary/treasurer from office

In a vote of 971-384, members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe answered a resounding "yes" Tuesday to the ballot question, "Shall the secretary/treasurer be removed from office?"

Twelve of the 13 precincts voted to remove Secretary/Treasurer Michael Bongo. Only the Sugar Point precinct was against doing so, voting 24-15 to retain him.

"In some respects (the results) were somewhat disappointing," Bongo said in a telephone interview today. "But not unexpected."

Chairman Arthur "Archie" LaRose said Bongo has seven days to appeal the election results, which were certified Wednesday. If there is no appeal, or the appeal fails, LaRose said the Leech Lake Tribal Council would call a special election to fill the position until the term ends in 2014.

Meanwhile, he said, District I Representative Robbie Howe has agreed to fulfill the secretary/treasurer's duties. The Tribal Council will hold a special meeting at the end of the seven-day appeal process to discuss and vote on her appointment.

Bongo said today that he would not appeal the election results.

"I did my best, put my best foot forward and tried to do what I thought was the best for the band as a whole," he said.

The issue behind the removal/recall petition relates to Bongo's Sept. 14 approval, under his single signature, of a $2.4 million loan to Bill and Kathy Bieloh and Moondance Jam, Inc. Tribal law requires financial transfers to have the approval of the Tribal Council and the signatures of both the secretary-treasurer and chairman.

According to an investigation by Minneapolis attorney David Lillehaug, Bongo signed the loan agreement for a term of seven years at a rate of 8 percent interest. The loan was to be paid off in annual installments of $460,973.76 beginning Sept. 14, 2011. Bongo approved the loan on his signature alone without Tribal Council approval, and the bank transferred the funds to the Bielohs.

Security for the loan was real estate and a life insurance policy of $1 million on Bill Bieloh. However, Bieloh only took out $500,000 in life insurance at the time of the loan. Bill Bieloh died Sept. 24 of a massive heart attack.

Lillehaug's report was presented to the Leech Lake Band membership Nov. 22. The report concludes, "We are forced to conclude that Bongo knowingly - not just negligently - violated Band law and policies."

LaRose was philosophical about the situation.

"Life goes forward," he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "Moves on, and that's what we've got to do."