Navajo Nation Council delegate's request denied

Noel Lyn Smith

FARMINGTON – A Window Rock District Court judge has denied a motion filed by a Navajo Nation Council delegate in response to charges filed against him in connection to a discretionary fund case.

Navajo Nation

An attorney for Delegate Mel R. Begay filed a motion to dismiss on Aug. 25, 2015, after the special prosecutor filed seven additional criminal charges for alleged abuse of the discretionary fund.

On July 13, 2015, Begay was charged with seven counts of making or permitting false tribal vouchers for allegedly issuing thousands of dollars in financial assistance to family members. Begay initially was charged on Nov. 17, 2014, with one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and two counts of making or permitting false tribal vouchers.

The discretionary fund was established by the council to provide financial assistance to tribal members facing economic hardship or emergency situations.

Begay, who represents the Bahastl'ah, Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti and Tohatchi chapters, pleaded not guilty to the latter charges on Aug. 10, 2015, in Window Rock District Court in Window Rock, Ariz.

Neither Begay nor his attorney, Jennifer Baker of Fredericks, Peebles and Morgan LLC, responded to messages seeking comment Thursday. In a July 23 statement, Begay said he would defend himself against the charges.

The Aug. 25 motion asked the court to dismiss the charges based on the statute of limitations, on charging based upon alternatives for which the special prosecutor lacks a good-faith basis, that the complaints fail to allege essential facts that constitute the offense, and on selective prosecution.

Window Rock District Court Judge Carol Perry denied the motion to dismiss on Dec. 21, according to court documents.

In the section of the court order that addresses the statute of limitations, Perry wrote that the parties agreed to a statute of limitations of five years.

Begay's motion argued the statute of limitations had passed because the tribe discovered the alleged illegal behavior prior to 2010. The motion asserted that discovery should be calculated starting at the point when there were disclosed problems with the financial assistance program.

Perry wrote that, although Begay and the individuals receiving the financial assistance had the same last name, "there is no way for the Office of the Speaker or the Auditor General to have known the two were related."

The financial assistance requests were addressed as "Mr. Begay" and sought help for education-related expenses, she wrote.

"The language and conversation is not consistent with a son or daughter asking for money from his or her father," Perry wrote.

Also on Dec. 21, Perry ordered a bench trial be set for the seven charges.

A jury trial for Begay on the charges issued in 2014 is scheduled for March 14-25 in Window Rock District Court.

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