ROOSEVELT — They may have been voted out by the electorate, but three former members of the Ute Tribe Business Committee didn't leave office empty-handed.
Maxine Natchees, Smiley Arrowchis and Richard Jenks Jr. gave themselves more than $12,000 in "parting gifts" before they turned over their seats in May to three newly elected Business Committee members, according to three invoices obtained by the Deseret Morning News.
The invoices, dated May 1 and marked "BC member parting gift," show that:
- Natchees received a $4,785.92 check made out to the Viking Sewing Gallery in Orem, which she spent on a computerized embroidery machine and software.
Arrowchis received a $4,701.40 check made out to Basin Sports in Vernal, which he spent on at least three rifles and accessories.
Jenks received a $2,863.61 check made out to a Salt Lake City Best Buy store, which he spent on a 42-inch LCD TV and a 22-inch LCD computer monitor. He also bought protection plans for both products.
Arrowchis' signature appears on the invoices for Natchees and Jenks, and Natchees' signature is on the invoice for Arrowchis. All three documents are signed by Barry Jensen, the executive director of the Ute Tribe.
"I'd ask (Jensen) what authority he had to sign those checks, and who confronted him and asked him and told him to sign the checks," said former Business Committee member Luke Duncan. "It's a misuse of tribal funds."
Duncan and Ron Wopsock were expelled from the Business Committee by Natchees, Arrowchis, Jenks and Roland McCook Sr. in October 2003 because of questions the men raised about the conduct of the tribe's powerful financial adviser, John Jurrius.
The current Business Committee has initiated an independent audit of the tribe's oil and gas transactions since 2001, the year Jurrius started working for the Northern Utes, in an effort to better understand their holdings. The move has drawn criticism from Jurrius' supporters, including Natchees, who claim the tribe's new leadership is interfering with the tribe's ability to profit from its energy reserves.
Business Committee member Irene Cuch served with Natchees, Arrowchis and Jenks. She said there was never a resolution or a quorum vote approving the expenditure of tribal funds on gift certificates. Cuch said the justification she's heard for granting the parting gifts is that a past Business Committee approved gifts for outgoing members.
"If that's what they're claiming as the reason they did what they did, they need to provide that document — when, where and to whom (the gift) was made," Cuch said. "As far as I know I've never heard of it."
Cuch said the tribe is currently facing a shortage in assistance money, funds used to help tribal members travel for medical care or to meet other needs. The money Natchees, Arrowchis and Jenks spent could have been put to good use helping those in need, she said.
In past years, outgoing Business Committee members have been given Pendleton blankets in recognition of their service, Cuch said. But the decision to purchase those blankets, which cost an average of $200, depending on size and design, rests with the newly elected tribal leadership, not the departing members.
Curtis Cesspooch was sworn into office in May and replaced Natchees as the Business Committee's chairman. He agreed that the ousted members' actions were inconsistent with established tribal practices.
"They gave themselves going-away gifts," Cesspooch said. "I was on the council before and all I got was a card from the secretaries when I left."
Efforts to contact Natchees, Arrowchis and Jenks for comment about the parting gifts were unsuccessful. Jensen did return a call for comment but did not leave a phone number where he could be reached.