Former Navajo Nation Council delegates plead guilty to discretionary fund misuse

Noel Lyn Smith
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON Two former members of the Navajo Nation Council have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery charges in connection to abusing the council's discretionary fund.

Former delegates Raymond Joe and Harry Williams Sr. submitted separate plea agreements on Tuesday in Window Rock District Court in Window Rock, Ariz.

District Court Judge Carol Perry accepted both pleas the same day.

The tribe's special prosecutor in August filed criminal complaints against both men. According to the complaints, members of the council from 2003 to 2011 appropriated about $32 million to the legislative branch for financial assistance through the discretionary fund. The fund was created to allow delegates to provide emergency and hardship assistance to tribal members.

The complaints outline a system that shows Delegate A provided money to a family member of Delegate B, with the understanding that Delegate B would, in return, authorize an equivalent sum of money to Delegate A's family member.

According to the plea agreements, both men admitted to knowing that as delegates, they could not "lawfully" authorize financial assistance to their children or family members so they "agreed" with other delegates to provide assistance to each other's children and family members.

Sentencing agreements for Joe and Williams state both men will be sentenced to probation and the remaining complaints against them will be dismissed if the special prosecutor determines they are cooperating with the investigation. The agreements note that neither man can run for public office in this year's election.

The agreements also say the tribe may request re-payment of the misused funds as a condition of probation.

Joe represented the chapters of Blue Gap-Tachee and Whippoorwill in Arizona.

In his plea agreement, he admitted that from 2007 to 2009, he entered into agreements with several former delegates — including Johnny Naize, who is the current council speaker, and Lena Manheimer — to provide $24,800 in financial assistance to their family members.

"We exchanged benefits to each other in order to influence and control our exercise of discretion in causing the disbursements of financial assistance funds to each other and our families," Joe said in court documents, which detail how the money was allocated from October 2007 to January 2009.

In December, both Naize and Manheimer were charged with bribery and conspiracy in connection to misusing discretionary funds. Their arraignments are scheduled for March in Window Rock District Court.

Williams represented Coalmine Canyon and Tó Nanees Dizí chapters in Arizona.

In court documents, he admitted that from 1999 to 2011, he approved $7,300 in financial assistance to family members of two former delegates, according to the plea agreement.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and . Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.