Nation delegate faces removal after conviction
FARMINGTON – Delegate Mel R. Begay — who was convicted last week of misusing money in a tribal fund intended to help members in distress — will remain on the Navajo Nation Council until the process for his removal is addressed by the Navajo Election Administration.
Begay's service as the delegate for the Bahastl'ah, Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti and Tohatchi chapters has come into question after a jury found him guilty Wednesday of 10 counts of giving more than $30,000 from the tribe's financial assistance program to relatives.
He is the only current delegate convicted of charges filed by the Navajo Nation Special Prosecutor. All but one of the others reached plea agreements and the remaining case is still proceeding through the court system. Since 2013, the special prosecutor has charged 17 current and former delegates and former employees for misusing $840,009 from the discretionary fund.
Jared Touchin, spokesman for the Speaker's Office, said in an email on Friday that Begay remains a member of the council for the time being.
"The matter is currently in the hands of the Navajo Election Administration, in accordance with provisions outlined in the Navajo Election Code,” Touchin said.
In 2014, the council amended the Navajo Election Code to clarify the qualifications for elected officials and the removal of officials, according to a press release from the Office of the Speaker issued Thursday.
Edison Wauneka, executive director of the Navajo Election Administration, said the removal process cannot start until the office receives a copy of the written order from the Window Rock District Court.
The office is monitoring whether Begay files an appeal to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court, which would delay the process, Wauneka said.
Begay was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and nine counts of making or permitting false tribal vouchers for providing $33,750 from the financial assistance program to his six children.
A sentencing hearing for Begay is scheduled for May 17 at 11 a.m. in Window Rock District Court. He remains free under conditions of release that include a requirement that he not communicate with witnesses in the case and that he not discuss the pending cases with his children.
Fifteen former delegates and two former employees have been convicted — by pleading guilty or no contest — of misusing the financial assistance program since February 2014.
Former delegates who have been convicted are George Arthur, Harry H. Clark, Jack Colorado, Raymond Joe, Lena Manheimer, Lawrence T. Morgan, Johnny Naize, Orlanda Smith-Hodge, Leonard Teller, David L. Tom, Young Jeff Tom Sr., Harry J. Willeto, Harry Williams Sr. and Ernest D. Yazzie Jr.
Also convicted are former Speaker's Office employees Laura Calvin and Victoria Cecil.
And the actions of 10 former delegates were found to have been in violation of the Navajo Nation Ethics in Government Law. Those complaints were adjudicated by the tribe’s Office of Hearings and Appeals, which did not respond to a request for the delegates’ names on Friday.
Criminal charges remain for former delegate Hoskie Kee, who represented the Baca-Prewitt, Casamero Lake and Littlewater chapters. A jury trial for Kee is scheduled on April 26 in the Dilkon District Court in Arizona.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.
Individuals charged in Navajo Nation discretionary fund case
Raymond Joe: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy on Feb. 18, 2014. Charged with misusing $50,600. Pleaded to $25,300.
Harry Williams Sr.: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy on Feb. 18, 2014. Charged with misusing $14,600. Pleaded to $7,300.
Victoria Cecil: Pleaded guilty to making or permitting false tribal voucher on July 15, 2014. Charged with misusing $29,250. Pleaded to $8,250.
Harry J. Willeto: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy on July 15, 2014. Charged with misusing $21,100. Pleaded to $10,550.
Lawrence T. Morgan: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy on Sept. 10, 2014. Charged with misusing $35,100. Pleaded to $17,550.
Ernest D. Yazzie Jr.: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy on Sept. 17, 2014. Charged with misusing $156,625. Pleaded to $99,625.
Johnny Naize: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy on Sept. 30, 2014. Charged with misusing $73,100. Pleaded to $36,550.
David L. Tom: Pleaded no contest to conspiracy on Sept. 30, 2014. Charged with misusing $137,900. Pleaded to $96,900.
George Arthur: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy on Oct. 3, 2014. Charged with misusing $51,800. Pleaded to $25,900.
Leonard Teller: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy on Oct. 3, 2014. Charged with misusing $27,400. Pleaded to $13,700.
Orlanda Smith-Hodge: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy on Nov. 17, 2014. Charged with misusing $31,659. Pleaded to $24,800.
Laura Calvin: Pleaded no contest to conflict of interest on Jan. 22, 2015. Charged with misusing $46,325. Pleaded to $46,325.
Lena Manheimer: Pleaded no contest to conspiracy on April 16, 2015. Charged with misusing $25,300. Pleaded to $12,650.
Harry H. Clark: Pleaded no contest to adversely affecting confidence of the people in the government on May 18, 2015. Charged with misusing $45,200. Pleaded to $22,600.
Jack Colorado: Pleaded no contest to conspiracy on May 18, 2015. Charged with misusing $32,800. Pleaded to $16,400.
Young Jeff Tom Sr.: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy on Feb. 12, 2016. Charged with misusing $27,500. Pleaded to $13,750.
Mel R. Begay: Found guilty to conspiracy and making or permitting false tribal vouchers on March 23, 2016. Charged with $33,750.
Source: Navajo Nation Special Prosecutor