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Petition seeks removal of Fond du Lac tribal councilor

A Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa tribal councilor facing felony charges for the alleged theft of a check intended for the band now is the subject of a petition seeking her removal from office. A 40-page petition containing 247 signatu...

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Vanessa Northrup

A Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa tribal councilor facing felony charges for the alleged theft of a check intended for the band now is the subject of a petition seeking her removal from office.

A 40-page petition containing 247 signatures of resident eligible voters was delivered to the Reservation Business Committee this week, seeking to remove Vanessa Northrup from office for "malfeasance in the handling of tribal affairs by taking a check intended for a reservation project and signing and depositing it in her personal account."

Court documents allege that Northrup deposited the $2,000 check from the University of Minnesota into her personal bank account in September 2016. The funds were intended to build a path between the band's government building and the university's Cloquet Forestry Center.

The Carlton County Sheriff's Office began investigating Northrup when the missing check was reported a year later, according to a criminal complaint.

Fond du Lac Band member Bryan Bosto presented the petition to the RBC on Tuesday, along with copies of the $2,000 check, written Aug. 30, 2016. The check was discovered missing as part of a routine audit in 2017, according to RBC Secretary/Treasurer Ferdinand Martineau. Northrup repaid the money after the check was discovered missing.

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In November, Martineau recommended in his monthly newspaper column that band members circulate a petition to have Northrup removed from office. He said in his column that the constitution of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe states it's his responsibility to make a recommendation.

"The petition doesn't depend on charges being filed within the state court system; it's two different paths," Martineau told the Pine Journal at the time.

For the petition process to trigger an RBC hearing, band members had to collect signatures of 20 percent of the resident eligible voters. That doesn't include band members who live outside the reservation boundaries, Martineau said.

Bosto and about a dozen other band members started gathering signatures Nov. 29, and presented more than enough Tuesday to meet the 20 percent mark, he said. Bosto said they needed at least 204 signatures to meet the threshold.

"I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who stood up and signed the petition and those that went to get signatures," Bosto told the Pine Journal. "We couldn't have accomplished this much without them."

Now the band has 15 days to verify signatures, membership and residence.

If the signatures are verified, the RBC is supposed to schedule a hearing open to band members, but not the general public. Northrup would present her defense and any witnesses there, in front of her fellow RBC members.

"There is a judge and jury, but that's the tribal council, because we're the ones who hear the complaint," Martineau said. "The RBC makes the final decision."

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Meanwhile, an omnibus hearing in the legal case is scheduled for Wednesday.

Northrup did not respond to an email from the Pine Journal and FDL Chairman Kevin DuPuis said he would make a statement at a later time, as he was unavailable by press time. Northrup previously declined to comment on the case while it was still under investigation.

Northrup was elected to her District 1 RBC seat in June 2016. She has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and a master's degree in tribal administration and governance. She has worked as a school resource officer, community officer, gang specialist and investigated crimes against women and children, according to the candidate profile published in the Pine Journal in June 2016. She also has a business finance and management degree.

Any appeal of the RBC decision - should it get that far - would be to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Martineau said.

In the criminal case, each felony charge carries a maximum of five years in prison, if convicted. A check of Northrup's history shows that she had misdemeanor convictions from the 1990s including damage to property and violating a harassment order.

The News Tribune contributed to this report.

Related Topics: CRIMECLOQUETCARLTON COUNTY
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