Former delegate Ernest D. Yazzie Jr. pleads guilty in Navajo Nation Council discretionary fund cases
FARMINGTON — Another former Navajo Nation Council delegate has pleaded guilty to a criminal charge in connection to the discretionary fund case.
Ernest D. Yazzie Jr. pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery on Wednesday in Window Rock District Court in Window Rock, Ariz.
The council established the discretionary fund to provide financial help to tribal members in need of emergency assistance or facing financial hardship.
As part of his plea agreement, Yazzie agreed to a 60-day jail sentence, a period of probation to be determined by the court and community service, according to a press release from the special prosecutor. The court could suspend the jail time at Yazzie's final sentencing.
Yazzie, who represented the chapters of Bááháálí and Church Rock in New Mexico, also agreed to assist the special prosecutor in cases against current and former delegates, including testifying at the upcoming group trial for Speaker Johnny Naize, delegate David L. Tom and former delegates George Arthur and Leonard Teller.
The group trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 14 in Window Rock District Court. Before Yazzie entered his plea, he was named as a defendant in the trial.
Yazzie's plea came a week after former speaker Lawrence T. Morgan pleaded guilty to conspiracy and arranged a similar agreement with the special prosecutor.
According to court documents, Yazzie admitted that from January 2006 to October 2009, he authorized more than $95,000 in assistance from the discretionary fund to family members of Tom.
In exchange, Tom authorized the same amount in assistance to Yazzie's family members, court documents state.
Yazzie also admitted in court documents to assisting former delegate Hoskie Kee in obtaining financial assistance. Kee was the delegate from Baca-Prewitt, Casamero Lake and Littlewater chapters in New Mexico. Civil charges against Kee in the discretionary fund case have been dismissed, but he still faces criminal charges.
Tom represents the chapters of Beclabito, Cove, Gadii'ahi-Tokoi, Red Valley, Sheep Springs, Toadlena-Two Grey Hills and Tsé Alnaozt'i'í chapters. The chapters are all in New Mexico, except for Red Valley and Cove, which are both in Arizona. He ran for re-election and finished fifth out of six candidates in the Aug. 26 primary election, according to the official results.
In court documents, Yazzie admitted he knew that, as a delegate, he could not "lawfully authorize" financial assistance to his children or to family members and agreed with other delegates to provide such assistance to their children and family members.
Under this arrangement, Yazzie authorized a certain sum of money to a delegate's family member. In return, that delegate would authorize a similar amount to one of Yazzie's family members.
"At the time I did this, I knew this agreement to try to circumvent tribal law was wrong," states an admission of fact Yazzie signed.
Under the sentencing agreement, the court is expected to schedule a sentencing hearing, and Yazzie can continue the conditions of his release until then.
He could be sentenced to a suspended 60-day jail sentence if the special prosecutor advises the court at the sentencing hearing that Yazzie provided "substantial assistance" to the prosecutions.
Yazzie also could be sentenced to community service and could pay restitution to the tribe, depending on his ability to pay.
The additional charges of bribery, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, abuse of office, unauthorized compensation and unsworn falsification are to be dismissed with prejudice after the plea is accepted and after final sentencing.