Blueberry River lawsuit claims 'unjust enrichment' from trust funds

Civil trial began last week in Fort St. John to find out how millions of dollars have been allegedly misappropriated from the trust of the Blueberry River First Nation.

Blueberry River, along with its Trust Society and development company, are suing a group of two dozen former councillors, staff, consultants, and contractors for breach of trust and conflict of interest, and is asking the court to award more than $3.6 million in damages.

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The claim alleges the defendants misappropriated $10 million in funds from April 2010 to December 2013, and transferred from the trust to general accounts to cover the band's operating expenses.

The claim alleges $3 million was "improperly provided" by the defendants to pay for contracted services, and $1.6 million was "improperly given" to various council and family members.

"There was no legitimate business reason for any of the Contractor Payments or Family Payments," Blueberry River wrote in its claim. "Over the Material Time, the Defendants attempted to fraudulently represent that these payments were legitimate contracting and wage expenses."

Chief Marvin Yahey testified last week, alleging there were no financial controls during the time the defendants had stewardship over the trust.

In 2007, the funds were consolidated from a $70 million federal land treaty entitlement, intended to be protected by the Blueberry Trust Fund Society and managed by a group of elected councillors and representatives from the four main families in Blueberry River. 

There is allegedly just $186.25 remaining in the trust today.

Yahey declined to comment outside court. The trial is expected to last two weeks.

Only one counter-claim has been filed by one of the defendants, a former Yukon-based contractor hired to negotiate benefit agreements with with resource developers, including BC Hydro for the Site C dam, and TransCanada for the former Alaska Highway gas pipeline project.

They are seeking $4,355 plus interest for a final invoice for work they say has not been paid since January 2014. 

Email reporter Tom Summer at tsummer@ahnfsj.ca.

[Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that $25 million was allegedly misappropriated; the amount is actually $10 million.]

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