Hearing for joint trial in Navajo Nation discretionary fund cases is Friday
Farmington — Oral arguments will be heard today for the Navajo Nation special prosecutor's request to hold group trials for the tribe's discretionary fund cases.
In April, attorney Marc Lowry, who represents the special prosecutor, filed a motion to try tribal council Speaker Johnny Naize, current delegate David L. Tom and former delegates George Arthur, Leonard Teller and Ernest D. Yazzie Jr. in a single trial.
All five face bribery charges for allegedly misusing the council's discretionary fund, which was created to allow delegates to provide financial assistance to tribal members facing emergency situations or financial hardship.
The special prosecutor is seeking joint trials because the cases concern defendants who allegedly were involved in the same conspiracies, face the same charges or share common witnesses, according to the April motion. The motion also notes the move would save the tribe time and money.
In addition to that joint trial, the special prosecutor is requesting two additional group trials.
Group Two would consist of former speaker Lawrence T. Morgan and former delegates Hoskie Kee and Young Jeff Tom.
Group Three would include former delegates Harry H. Clark, Jack Colorado, Lena Manheimer and Orlanda Smith-Hodge.
The hearing is at 9:30 a.m. today in the Window Rock District Court in Window Rock, Ariz.
On Wednesday, the special prosecutor released an update on rulings made this month by Window Rock District Court Judge Carol Perry in cases against former delegates Harry Willeto, Arthur and Yazzie.
Willeto was charged on Aug. 20, 2013, with one count of conspiracy and six counts of bribery in connection to abusing the discretionary fund.
On Tuesday, Perry accepted Willeto's guilty plea to conspiracy to commit bribery in official and political matters. The judge also accepted the plea agreement Willeto made with the special prosecutor in which he agreed to provide assistance to resolve the remaining discretionary fund cases.
In Willeto's guilty plea, he acknowledged that from 2005 to 2011, he made agreements with Clark, Colorado and Naize to provide financial assistance to their family members. In exchange, Willeto's wife, sons and daughters received funding from Clark, Colorado and Naize.
From February 2005 to November 2009, Willeto authorized at least 21 payments totaling $9,050 to Clark's wife, sons, daughter, brothers and sisters, according to the plea. Willeto also approved $1,500 in financial assistance to Colorado's family from October 2008 to February 2009 and $400 to Naize's stepson in May 2009.
Under the plea agreement, the six bribery charges will be dismissed after the final sentencing, which the special prosecutor can request before Dec. 31, 2015.
Willeto also agreed not to run for public office in the 2016 tribal elections and could face the possibility of paying at least $5,000 in restitution, depending on the assistance he provides and his ability to pay.
His plea agreement is similar to the ones taken earlier in February by former delegates Raymond Joe and Harry Williams Sr.
From 1999 to 2011, Willeto represented the New Mexico chapters of Counselor, Nageezi and Ojo Encino.
Arthur was charged with one count of conspiracy and six counts of bribery in December.
The 2013 criminal complaint states Arthur, who represented Nenahnezad, San Juan and Tiis Tsoh Sikaad chapters in New Mexico from 1999 to 2011, issued $25,900 in assistance to family members of current and former delegates.
Arthur's attorney, Richard Wade, on May 9 filed a motion to dismiss each charge on the grounds the statute of limitations had expired.
Wade filed a second motion to dismiss on June 8, this time claiming the court lacks jurisdiction because Arthur's service as a delegate made him immune from lawsuits under the Navajo Nation Sovereign Immunity Act.
The special prosecutor filed responses for both motions, but no reply was filed on Arthur's behalf.
On Monday, Perry denied both of Arthur's motions to dismiss.
"The Navajo Nation through its special prosecutor has identified March 20, 2012 as the date of discovery," Perry wrote. "Complaints against the defendant were filed on Dec. 3, 2013 which is within a five year time limit."
As for the issue of immunity, Perry wrote one of the purposes of the sovereign immunity act is to protect the tribe's treasury.
"This court finds the NNSIA was never intended to cloak officials from criminal charges such as these cases where the defendant is being charged with conspiracy and bribery concerning embezzlement of Navajo Nation government funds," she wrote.
Perry also stated the complaints against Arthur were filed in a "personal capacity" and explained the sovereign immunity act does not "immunize" tribal officials when they act outside the scope of their official duties.
Arthur is challenging incumbent LoRenzo Bates in this year's election to serve as the delegate for the chapters of Nenahnezad, Newcomb, San Juan, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tsé Daa K'aan and Upper Fruitland.
Ernest D. Yazzie Jr.
In April, Yazzie filed a motion requesting the 24 criminal charges filed against him in 2013 be transferred to the Navajo Nation Peacemaking Program.
According to the April 3 motion, Yazzie alleged the special prosecutor obtained witnesses' statements through "coerce, intimidations and harassments" and "putting so much fear in all household members including children into making statements under unbelievable intimidation."
During a May 23 court hearing in Window Rock, Yazzie withdrew his motion to transfer after learning false allegations of prosecutorial misconduct could be used against him at his trial, according to the press release issued on Wednesday by the special prosecutor.
Yazzie represented the chapters of Bááháálí and Church Rock in New Mexico.