The Crow Legislature had a vote that had tribal members on the edge of their seats last week. They were voting to decide who was going to manage the tribe’s multimillion dollar accounts that resulted from a federal water rights settlement: First Interstate Bank in Billings or a financial advisor from New York City?
No one checked their phones or even glanced up when someone new struggled to find a place to stand at Friday’s special session.
Jackie Yellowtail was one of those rapt crowd members.
“I’ve got grandkids and great-grandkids,” she said. “The decisions they make today are going to affect those children.”
Reporters weren't allowed to record the meeting but here’s what happened.
First, Crow Facebook groups were swirling with rumors about alleged fiscal mismanagement and a man with a black mark on his record who wanted to turn things around.
The Crow Tribe is sitting on about a quarter of a billion dollars, stemming from a much larger water rights settlement it got from the federal government over a decade ago.
Earlier this year, a financial advisor named Chad Pouliot was sitting in his New York office when he got a call the pro tem mayor of Las Vegas, Michelle Fiore. She asked if he would help a tribe in need. Now Pouliot is working as an unpaid consultant for the Crow Tribe and says he can better manage the water settlement fund.
The special session was about who should have that job: First Interstate, where the settlement funds are now, or Pouliot?
Two rows of constituents looked on as Pouliot claimed he could make the tribe rich and bankers from First Interstate said his claims equated to theft.
This Charles, Chad Pouliot, he brought his a-game,” he said on Facebook. “He told us what he wanted us to hear.”
DeCrane said he was uncomfortable with how fast this was all moving. He was only sworn in a week earlier.
When I want to buy something over a thousand dollars, I pray about it,” he said. “I look into it, research it.”
Before the legislature broke for lunch, Pouliot stood up and asked how many people in the room had gotten loans from First Interstate. When was the last time the bank made an investment in the community, he asked.
People started clapping. Someone shouted, “Why is there a bank in Lame Deer but not Crow.” Elders turned around shushed audience members.
Brian Brown, the Billings area manager for First Interstate, tried to explain that the bank has outstanding federal ratings for its community engagement and lending practices. He said that First Interstate, which has over $13 billion in assets, has donated $50,000 to the community in recent years.
Senator Frank White Clay doesn’t think that’s enough but still voted to keep the funds at the bank.
That’s because Pouliot wanted $1.2 million for managing the money. First Interstate said they wanted about $310,000 for the same work.
White Clay said that’s a big difference.
“That’s $800,000 that’s the tribe’s money,” he said. “The people’s money.”
Back in the room, the legislature sat down to vote. Everyone quieted down as the secretary called each representative.
It came down to a tie, then Darwin Spotted grabbed his mic. I’d like to change my vote, he said, breaking the tie with a no vote. The bill failed.
People started clearing the room. Pouliot walked by, his head hung low. It’s a sad day for the Crow people, he said.
But later in a sitting room at his Billings apartment, he told me it actually wasn’t that bad of a day.
“Today the vote went the wrong way, however, the people are speaking. They want a change to happen,” he said.
Another thing they’re speaking about is him. A Facebook post questioning his past as a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch is circulating. “There is no rest for the wicked,” one commenter wrote. Pouliot says, yes he was fired from Merrill Lynch, but he says it was because of a misunderstanding. It’s the only disclosure listed on documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“They found that I had reimbursed my expenses with my own pretax money for $100,” he said. “It was a dentist bill that I categorized as a professional service.”
An industry database says he was fired for filing inaccurate business expenses.
Now he works for Bridgeway Wealth Partners in Manhattan, where he said he manages funds for celebrity and high networth clients.
For the past four months, he’s been flying to Billings to work on a full audit of the Crow Tribe. When asked if he is receiving a per diem or other forms of payment, he said, “Nothing. There’s no strings attached.”
He said his work with the Crow Tribe is worthwhile for many reasons, including that it’s the right thing to do, but also because he wants the tribal nation to be a test case.
“I want this to be such an amazing turnaround story, where this could be an example for more tribal nations and how we can help them,” Pouliot said.
Yellowtail, the concerned grandmother, said it’s time for the tribe to help themselves. She said she wants the Crow Tribe to manage its own assets.
First Interstate declined to comment.
Olivia Reingold is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for America corps member.