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Contractors in 18 States, Including CA, Got $300M by Claiming to Be Cherokee Despite White Ancestry

An undated photo shows William Wages, whose brother-in-law is House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield). He says he is one-eighth Cherokee. Wages' company, Vortex Construction, has won more than $7 million in federal contracts set aside for minorities. (Credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

An undated photo shows William Wages, whose brother-in-law is House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield). He says he is one-eighth Cherokee. Wages' company, Vortex Construction, has won more than $7 million in federal contracts set aside for minorities. (Credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Two years ago, when the mayor’s office in St. Louis announced a $311,000 contract to tear down an old shoe factory, it made a point of identifying the demolition company as minority owned.

That was welcome news. The Missouri city was still grappling with racial tensions from the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old, in nearby Ferguson. After angry protests, elected officials had pledged to set aside more government work for minority-owned firms.

There was only one problem.

Bill Buell, the owner of Premier Demolition Inc., has no verifiable claim to being a member of a minority group. His ancestors are identified as white in census and other government records. And his claim to being a Native American rests on his membership in a self-described Cherokee group that is not recognized as a legitimate tribe.

Read the full story on LATimes.com.

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