FARMINGTON — Navajo Oil and Gas, a tribally owned company worth $458 million, has been in a leadership struggle for the past several weeks, and allegations have continued, the latest in a recent press release outlining an alleged company takeover.
The Friday release lists consultants, from former Navajo President and Chairman Peterson Zah to current and former board members, that allegedly helped former CEO Robert Joe confirm new board members and gain control of the company. A recent Navajo Supreme Court ruling put former board members back in control and they promptly fired Joe.
"Robert Joe, the former NNOGC CEO, hired numerous consultants and lawyers in his battle to replace the majority of the NNOGC Board of Directors with his supporters," the press release stated.
Current board President Lennard Eltsosie said the accusations are based on financial records from Joe's tenure as director.
"The issue is how much money has been spent and the board not having the knowledge of it," he said in a phone interview.
The press release states that Zah was paid $52,315.86 as a lobbyist to secure the appointments of board members from the Navajo Nation Council and to identify lawyers to "sue the Directors in federal court."
Eltsosie said the information came from checks and invoices.
Zah, however, said he was hired as a consultant.
"We got called upon for consultancy work for the expertise we have built up during our lifetime. And to deliver that advice and expertise, we get paid for our consultancy work," he said in a prepared statement.
Eltsosie said the amount paid to Zah was excessive.
"That happened within a year. Zah was hired back in August as a consultant," he said.
Zah said the money was earned.
"It is money that we earned and it's work that was performed. What's wrong with that?" he said.
Eltsosie said the money spent by the company belongs to the Navajo people and added that the board now has a policy in place requiring company approval for all consultant contracts.
The release also said Spencer Willie, a former Navajo Nation employee, received more than $102,000 to lobby the Department of Interior for approval of amendments to the company's federal charter, which were not approved by the board of directors.
Willie said the accusations are false.
"I am not a federal registered lobbyist and I have never performed any federal lobbying activities to influence the Department of Interior's approval of the charter amendments. This statement is a blatant lie," he said in a statement.
He said his job was to help with governmental relations, attending Navajo Council meetings, and keeping officials informed on the company's perspectives.
"I logged in over 120 hours per month and provided reports with my billing and (got) approval by NNOGC management. As a private consultant, I would like to note that my fees are reasonable. After paying for relevant taxes and employee benefits, the actual salary is far less than $50,000," he said.
Eltsosie said he is still waiting for more information about Willie's role with the company.
"I have not seen any information on him yet," he said.
Another consultant named in the release was former board member M. Wafaie Zaaza. Zaaza received more than $145,000 in payments from Navajo Oil and Gas either personally or through his company, First People Energy Group.
Zaaza also served on the board's Acquisitions and New Ventures Committee while he was a board member. The committee recommended projects for Navajo Oil and Gas to consider.
Zaaza said he was hired as a consultant and has accounted for the money mentioned in the press release.
He said in a phone interview that he was offered a consultant position while he was a board member and became a consultant last year, soon after he resigned from the board.
A majority of the $145,000, Zaaza said, was expenses for his services that included geological assessments and other services.
"Board politics, governmental involvement, unnecessary legal actions, all are prescriptions for failure," he said.
He added that he charged the company time for field visits and that he did not charge the company for consulting calls made from his office phone.
"I didn't charge a penny for anything I did in my office. I charged nothing, I only charged them hours going out in the fields," he said. "This is cheap, really cheap. It's ridiculous."
Lastly, the press release stated former board chairman Perry Shirley and board member, Frances Totsoni, who were paid, collectively, $100,000 by NNOGC.
Shirley, in an email, said they money they were paid for travel and meeting expenses about equals stipends the company has paid board members.
"According to previous management, the average annual stipend for members of the board of directors has been at least $40,000. Because travel expenses are also included in the amounts provided in the press release, these costs are reasonable and justified," he said.Erny Zah is The Daily Times business editor. He can be reached at 505-564-4638.and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @ernyzah on Twitter.