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Cobell settlement brings about $4 million locally so far

Jan 27, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

In December, the U.S. District Court approved the distribution of $1.5 billion in Indian Trust Settlement funds into Individual Indian Money accounts, including about $4 million to Wind River Indian Reservation trips so far.

The lawsuit was settled in 2010 after 17 years of litigation.

Settlement funds were divided into two groups or "classes." By Dec. 14, more than 4,000 enrolled tribe members from the first group had received their $1,000 checks in the mail or through deposit in their IIM accounts in Wyoming.

The class action case was presented by Elouise Cobell, along with other plaintiffs, in 1996 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and targeted the mismanagement by the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Department of the Treasury of trust funds, tribal land and assets held by the federal government.

Cobell died in 2011 before she could see the estimated 500,000 account holders in the United States receive their settlement money.

Lori Castaneda, the senior director with Garden City Group Inc. and the claims administrator in charge of distribution, said 4,718 tribe members in the Historical Accounting Class Members group in Wyoming have received their share. A total of 5,468 tribe members from Wyoming belong to this group.

"The remaining (Historical Accounting) Class Members are primarily estate Class Members where the court has ordered documentation be provided prior to distribution," Castaneda said in an e-mail.

An estimated two-thirds of the 225,000 American Indians in the first group who received their checks in December have already cashed them. More than 80 percent of tribe members in this group have received their payments.

A distribution date has yet to be announced for the second class, the Trust Administration Class, though a tentative date for fall 2013 is expected.

Roughly 6,728 members in Wyoming belong to this group. Members from this group are expected to receive $800 or more.

The final deadline to submit a claim for the Trust Administration Class is March 1, 2013.

Phone calls

Questions and confusion about the financial distribution led thousands to contact GCG.

The company said their call center received about 50,000 phone calls a day in December, and their hours were extended into the evening.

The business encourages people to call about deceased tribe members to update their information. If a deceased person receives a check or deposit, the company asks that it be returned so the individual's heirs can receive it. GCG said beneficiary information was provided to them by the Department of Interior 17 years ago and could have changed since then.

Account holders are advised not to give out any personal information to people who are offering to make loans or asking they pay to get their checks, as this was not authorized in the settlement.

For more information, call GCG at 1-800-961-6109.

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