Three more current, former Navajo Nation Council delegates take plea deals in discretionary fund cases

Noel Lyn Smith
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A current Navajo lawmaker and two former council delegates agreed to plea deals this week in connection to the tribe's discretionary fund case.

David L. Tom, who currently serves on the council, pleaded no contest to the charge of conspiracy to commit bribery on Tuesday 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.

Tom, who represents New Mexico's Beclabito, Gadii'ahi-Tokoi, Sheep Springs, Toadlena-Two Grey Hills and Tsé Alnaozt'i'í chapters and Arizona's Red Valley and Cove chapters, admitted to authorizing more than $95,000 in financial assistance to family members of former delegate Ernest D. Yazzie. Last month, Yazzie pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in the discretionary fund case.

Tom sought re-election to the council but finished fifth out of six candidates in the Aug. 26 primary election, according to the official results.

Former delegates George Arthur and Leonard Teller both entered plea agreements on Friday. Both men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery.

According to court documents, Arthur admitted that from 2006 to 2009 he provided $25,800 from the discretionary fund to Teller's family members and to the families of Johnny Naize, who resigned as speaker of the council on Monday, and former delegates Norman John II, Ervin Keeswood and Elmer Milford.

He also made deals with these individuals to have members of his family receive financial assistance.

Arthur is facing Pro Tem Speaker LoRenzo Bates in the general election to represent the chapters of Nenahnezad, Newcomb, San Juan, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tsé Daa K'aan and Upper Fruitland on the council.

It is not clear how Arthur's plea deal will affect his candidacy. Arthur could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

Teller also admitted to having similar financial agreements with Naize and Keeswood, as well as with current delegate Nelson BeGaye and former delegates Evelyn Acothley, Harry Claw and Raymond Joe.

From 2005 to 2009, Teller provided a total of $13,700 in financial assistance to those delegates' family members in exchange for similar monetary amounts being distributed to his family, according to court documents.

Under the terms of the plea agreements, if it is determined the men provided adequate assistance or testimony to help with the prosecution of the remaining cases, the bribery charges — and in Tom's case, two additional counts of false voucher — would be dismissed with prejudice.

Each man faces the possibility of serving a maximum of 180 days in jail, probation or community service, according to court documents.

The tribe may also request restitution. The amount would depend on the assistance each defendant provides or on his ability to pay.

Tom, Arthur, Teller, Naize and Yazzie were scheduled to have a group trial start on Oct. 14 in the Window Rock District Court, but they have all now entered into plea agreements.

In previous statements, the special prosecutor said group trials were necessary because the cases shared common witnesses and a group trial would cut down on the costs of the proceedings.

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.