Window Rock, Ariz. — A top leader of the Navajo Nation has pleaded not guilty to charges that he allegedly misused discretionary funds.
Navajo Nation Council Speaker Johnny Naize was arraigned on Tuesday in Window Rock District Court in Window Rock. He was charged with one count of conspiracy and 10 counts of bribery in criminal complaints the tribe's special prosecutor filed in December.
The criminal complaint states Naize issued $36,900 in discretionary funds to family members of current and former delegates. In return, Naize's family members received $36,550 in discretionary funds from those delegates, according to the criminal complaints.
The criminal complaint for conspiracy was amended to include an additional delegate, and a new charge of bribery was filed to include an additional $400 that was allegedly received by Naize's family members, according to court documents.
Naize appeared alongside John Voorhees, his attorney, before District Court Judge Carol Perry.
"Not guilty, your honor," Naize said after Perry asked him for his plea to each charge.
A pretrial hearing was not set, but attorney Marc Lowry, who represents the special prosecutor, said the two parties would meet to schedule a date.
Naize has been serving on the council since 1999. He represents Blue Gap-Tachee, Cottonwood-Tselani, Low Mountain, Many Farms and Nazlini chapters in Arizona. He was reelected to serve as speaker in January 2013.
Also appearing in court on Tuesday was former speaker Lawrence T. Morgan, who pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy and six counts of bribery.
According to the criminal complaints, Morgan's family members received $17,550 in emergency assistance from current and former delegates. In return, Morgan issued $17,850 in assistance to family members of those delegates, the complaints state.
Morgan sat without an attorney, and Perry informed him of his right to obtain counsel or have one appointed by the court.
As Perry read the criminal complaint for the conspiracy charge, Morgan stated he read and understood each complaint and then requested to waive reading each one by the court.
The pretrial date for Morgan is scheduled for 9 a.m. on April 9 in Window Rock District Court.
Morgan represented the chapters of Iyanbito and Pinedale in New Mexico from 1999 to 2011. He is the only delegate to serve four terms as speaker.
Arraignments were also scheduled for former delegates George Arthur and Lena Manheimer, who did not appear in court.
Lowry told the court that Navajo Nation Police Department staff made "good faith" attempts to deliver summons to Arthur and Manheimer, but they could not be located.
"Those attempts have been unsuccessful," Lowry said.
Arthur and Manheimer were each charged with one count of conspiracy and six counts of bribery.
Arthur represented the New Mexico chapters of Nenahnezad, San Juan and Tiis Tsoh Sikaad from 1999 to 2011 and served as chairman of the former Resources Committee. The criminal complaints states Arthur issued $25,900 in assistance to family members of current and former delegates. In return, those delegates issued $25,900 in assistance to Arthur's family members, the complaints say.
Manheimer represented Navajo Mountain and Ts'ah bii Kin chapters in Arizona from 2007 to 2011. She provided $12,650 in financial assistance to family members of former delegates, and, in return, those delegates provided $12,650 to her family members, the criminal complaint states.Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.