In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a large sign and a closed gate along Route 190 bar entry for passersby to a local road at the Passamaquoddy community of Pleasant Point on July 31, 2020. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

The Passamaquoddy tribal government at Pleasant Point said it’s being investigated by the U.S. Treasury Department over how it spent millions of dollars in federal pandemic relief funds.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General is probing how the tribe used funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to give pay raises to some tribal employees, which include people who are not members of the tribe, Chief Elizabeth “Maggie” Dana, said Friday.

The investigation was first reported last week by the Quoddy Tides newspaper, which is based in the neighboring city of Eastport.

Dana was the tribe’s vice chief when she and other members of the tribe’s elected council found out about the pay raises last year. They promptly sought out an accounting firm and a law firm to conduct separate reviews of how the funds were used. She became chief of the tribe in December 2020.

Dana declined to comment on the salaries, but the Quoddy Tides quoted a summary of the legal investigation that found tribal officials “provided exorbitant amounts of pay to employees who were deemed ‘essential.'” The accounting audit found that the tribal government’s payroll more than doubled in the span of one year, from $4.7 million in 2019 to $11.4 million in 2020, the paper reported.

One employee who earned $30,000 in 2019 saw a raise to $260,000 the following year, the Quoddy Tides reported. Some employees were overpaid by more than $100,000 — not including hazard pay and overtime — and one worker was paid more than half a million dollars in 2020, the paper said. These findings from the audit and legal investigation were presented at a community meeting held at Pleasant Point on Nov. 5, according to the paper.

Dana declined to provide copies of the tribe’s financial documents, or reports from the auditor and law firm.

The tribe is cooperating with federal investigators and had already started these reviews before it was contacted by the Treasury Department, Dana said.

“We had the reviews underway before the Treasury Department knocked on our door,” Dana said.

According to the Quoddy Tides, the specific amount the tribe received from the CARES Act was $4.7 million, and tribal members received approximately $2.1 million in the form of financial assistance, the newspaper reported.

Pleasant Point’s population in 2020 was 692 people, though there are members of the tribe who live in other municipalities in Maine.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Treasury Department did not reply to a request for comment.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....