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McFeely: Once seen as voice for Native American children, woman now accused of scam

Well, this is a sticky wicket.

A North Dakota woman being investigated for an adoption scam involving Native American children is the same North Dakota woman who was heralded as a whistleblower for exposing problems with child protection and welfare services on the Spirit Lake Reservation.

It's the same North Dakota woman who was invited to Washington, D.C., by Rep. Kevin Cramer to testify before Congress on Native American child welfare issues, after which she harshly criticized then-President Barack Obama and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp for visiting the Standing Rock Reservation.

Betty Jo Krenz of Woodworth, N.D., in Stutsman County, is being investigated by the Stutsman County Sheriff's Office and the Grand Forks Police Department, and possibly other agencies, for allegedly offering Native American children for adoption who were not under her auspices and, in fact, not available for adoption and in some cases living in homes with their parents.

The story was first reported by WDAY-TV and the High Plains Reader. Lt. Derik Zimmel, a Grand Forks Police Department spokesman, and Stutsman County Sheriff Chad Kaiser confirmed their agencies are investigating the claims, but declined further comment.

"There are no charges that have been filed yet, despite some things that have been out there on social media," Kaiser said. "This is still in the investigative stages."

Calls placed to various phones listed as belonging to Krenz either did not go through because the numbers were disconnected, or went directly to a voicemail box that was full.

The investigations began after stories about Krenz gained steam on Facebook. Krenz's accusers, from several states, say she stole photos of children and showed them to families hoping to adopt a child. They allege they paid her thousands of dollars to process documents, but did not deliver the children, according to the WDAY story.

This is where it could get awkward, particularly for Cramer.

Krenz became a go-to source for quotes in publications from the New York Times to The Forum to the Grand Forks Herald to the Say Anything Blog after being fired from her job as a social worker on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation in 2011. She was often portrayed as a whistleblower who was terminated because she exposed child-abuse problems on the reservation. Krenz went to the FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to inform them about what she believed was a misuse of funds, according to a Grand Forks Herald story. She said she was fired not long afterward.

The Spirit Lake Reservation was reeling at that time. In 2011, a 9-year-old girl and her 6-year-old brother were raped and murdered on the reservation. There were two more child deaths on the reservation in 2013 and 2014. The stunning number of sex crimes and violent acts against children on the reservation was widely reported and scrutinized.

Cramer got into hot water with the Spirit Lake tribe when in 2013 he told a meeting in Bismarck he wanted to "wring the Tribal Council's neck and slam them against the wall."

In June 2014, Cramer invited Krenz to speak to a congressional subcommittee about working with at-risk children at Spirit Lake. At about the same time, Krenz sounded like a surrogate for Cramer in an article on the Say Anything Blog when she trashed Obama and Heitkamp over the president's visit to Standing Rock.

An email to Cramer's spokesman asking for comment on Krenz was not answered.

The accusations against Krenz are significant, but she's not unknown to law enforcement and the court system in North Dakota. Krenz has a lengthy criminal record dating to the 1990s, according to the North Dakota courts web site, mostly for writing checks with insufficient funds or without an account. There are several felony charges on her record in Stutsman County, though, for theft, forgery and counterfeiting. She also has felonies in Cass County for forgery.

A sticky wicket, indeed.

Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a WDAY (970 AM) radio host and a columnist for The Forum. You can respond to Mike's columns by listening to AM-970 from 8:30-11 a.m. weekdays.
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