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Former Navajo Nation Council speaker pleads guilty to conspiracy

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ. — The former speaker of the Navajo Nation Council has pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiracy to commit bribery in relation to misusing the council's discretionary fund.

Last December, former speaker Lawrence T. Morgan was charged with six counts of bribery and one count of conspiracy for allegedly misusing the council's discretionary funding.

The discretionary funding was established by the council to provide financial assistance to tribal members in need of emergency assistance or facing financial hardship.

According to the criminal complaints, Morgan's family members received $17,550 in emergency assistance from four current and former delegates.

In return, Morgan issued $17,850 in assistance to family members of those delegates.

Morgan pleaded not guilty to the charges in March but reached a plea agreement during pretrial discussions with the tribe's special prosecutor.

"We have been able to resolve this case on mutual grounds," said attorney Marc Lowry, who represents the special prosecutor.

Morgan sat with his attorney, David Jordan, during the hearing Wednesday morning in Window Rock District Court in Window Rock, Ariz.

District Court Judge Geraldine Benally read each term of the plea agreement to Morgan, who answered "yes" to each statement.

Under terms of the plea agreement, Morgan has agreed to provide assistance to the special prosecutor in efforts to resolve the remaining cases against current and former delegates.

He has also confirmed that he authorized $6,150 in financial assistance to former delegate Young Jeff Tom Sr.'s family; $5,600 in financial assistance to former delegate Ernest D. Yazzie Jr.'s family; $5,100 in financial assistance to former delegate Hoskie Kee's family; and $1,000 in financial assistance to Speaker Johnny Naize's family.

Morgan admitted that each agreement was made with the understanding that a similar amount of financial assistance would be provided to his family members.

Yazzie and Naize, along with current delegate David L. Tom and former delegates George Arthur and Leonard Teller, will be tried as a group starting on Oct. 14 in Window Rock District Court.

Under the sentencing agreements for Morgan, he will continue with the conditions of release until his sentencing hearing.

He will be sentenced to a period of probation and no sentence of incarceration will be imposed if the special prosecutor advises the court that Morgan provided substantial assistance in other prosecutions.

The remaining six charges of bribery against Morgan would be dismissed after acceptance of the plea agreement and final sentencing.

At the sentencing, the tribe may request that restitution be paid, depending on the assistance Morgan provided and his ability to pay.

Morgan was the first delegate to serve four consecutive terms as speaker. He represented the chapters of Iyanbito and Pinedale in New Mexico from 1999 to 2011.

He declined to comment about the plea agreement on Wednesday and allowed Jordan to make a statement on his behalf after the court recessed.

Jordan said Morgan "regrets" how the distribution of the discretionary funding took place and for not preventing the misappropriation.

Since Morgan is considered a naat'áanii, which means "leader" in the Navajo language, he would like other former and current delegates to follow his example and help the special prosecutor, Jordan said.

By doing that, it would show others "the way to healing this sad part of history," Jordan said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and

nsmith@daily-times.com

. Follow her on Twitter

@nsmithdt

on Twitter.