Navajo Nation lawmaker faces criminal charges in discretionary fund case

The Daily Times Staff
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The special prosecutor for the Navajo Nation has filed nine criminal charges against a current tribal lawmaker in connection to the ongoing discretionary fund case.

Mel R. Begay, who serves on the Navajo Nation Council, faces one count of conspiracy to commit fraud, two counts of making or permitting a false Navajo Nation voucher and six counts of conflict of interest. The charges were filed on Monday in Window Rock District Court in Window Rock, Ariz.

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

According to a criminal complaint, Begay provided $33,750 in financial assistance to his six children.

The arraignment for Begay, who represents the Bahastl'ah, Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti and Tohatchi chapters in New Mexico, is scheduled for Dec. 22 in Window Rock District Court.

Begay was re-elected to serve on the council in November.

Also on Monday, the district court accepted a plea agreement from former delegate Orlanda Smith-Hodge, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery.

According to the plea agreement, Smith-Hodge provided $24,900 in discretionary funding to seven former delegates and one current delegate.

As part of the agreement, the tribe agreed to dismiss with prejudice six counts of bribery, four counts of abuse of office and five counts of unauthorized compensation if Smith-Hodge cooperates in the prosecution of similar cases.

Smith-Hodge represented the chapters of Cornfields, Greasewood Springs, Klagetoh and Wide Ruins in Arizona.