10 ex-Navajo Nation lawmakers sentenced for slush funds case

Posted at 10:30 AM, Aug 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-25 15:14:20-04

Ten former Navajo Nation lawmakers have been sentenced for their involvement in misusing the tribe's discretionary fund.

Former Navajo Nation Council Speaker Johnny Naize, who served as speaker from January 2011 to September 2014, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in official and political matters for issuing $36,550 to other delegates in exchange for the same amount being given to his family. On Wednesday he was ordered to pay the full amount in restitution, The Daily Times reported.

In lieu of jail time, Naize has been ordered to make presentations in the chapters he represented and to write an apology.

Naize admitted in a plea agreement in September 2014 that he abused the council's discretionary fund, which is designed to provide money to tribal members facing financial hardship.

Attorney Marc Lowry, who represents the special prosecutor, said the former delegates would authorize financial assistance to household members. For example, one delegate authorized a transfer of funds 41 times to a 6-year-old. The delegate had access to the child's account and withdrew the amount provided.

Prosecutors say all 10 delegates abused a financial assistance program designed to help tribal members facing hard times.

Each delegate pleaded guilty or no contest to conspiracy, making or permitting false tribal vouchers, conflict of interest or adversely affecting confidence of people in the government.

Most of the lawmakers were sentenced Wednesday in Window Rock to probation and community service or ordered to pay restitution with the exception of former Delegate Leonard Teller and former Delegate Jack Colorado, both of whom were sentenced to serve brief stints in jail.

Teller was sentenced to 180 days in jail and ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution. He will serve one day in jail each week until his term is served. Colorado was sentenced to 180 days in jail with 150 days suspended. He will also serve his time with one day a week due to poor health.

Former Delegate David L. Tom was ordered to pay $96,600 in restitution, but was not sentenced to jail because of a medical condition.

Former Delegate Harry Williams Sr., Harry H. Clark, former legislative branch employee Victoria Cecil and former Delegate Ernest D. Yazzie Jr. all received probation as well as financial restitution.

Former Delegate Harry J. Willeto and former Delegate Orlanda Smith-Hodge were only ordered to pay restitution and former Delegate Raymond Joe received an order of community service.

Former employee Laura Calvin and former delegates Lena Manheimer and George Arthur, and former Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan are still awaiting sentencing in connection to the case.

Three other former delegates already have been sentenced.