BIA cancels plans for new school at Twin Buttes 4-6-07

TWIN BUTTES, North Dakota (AP) - The Bureau of Indian Affairs is canceling plans for a new school here, and the Three Affiliated Tribes will return about $3.1 million to the federal government, Chairman Marcus Wells Jr. says.

The BIA suspended the $8 million project last year, after questions arose about invoices and management of the project.

One of the issues was the qualifications of the School Board's chosen construction manager, Twin Buttes Custom Homes. One of the company's board members is Melissa Starr, a School Board member and one of seven people indicted by a federal grand jury on conspiracy, fraud and embezzlement charges. They pleaded not guilty late last year.

The indictment says the Twin Buttes school theft involved falsifying travel vouchers, endorsing school checks, making withdrawals from the school's bank account, and taking bonuses, loans and payroll advances.

Gov. John Hoeven also has suspended Starr and two other School Board members, at Wells' request, and ordered a hearing into whether they should be permanently removed from the board. They have denied any wrongdoing.

State law gives Hoeven the power to remove school board members from office for misconduct.

The new Twin Buttes school would have been for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The School Board also was seeking to build a high school-caliber gymnasium at the new school, with a separate cafeteria.