Former tribal council delegate faces sentencing

Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Nation Council Delegate Mel R. Begay, right, and his attorney, Jeffery Rasmussen, leave Window Rock District Court in Window Rock, Ariz., on earlier this year after the first day of testimony in Begay’s trial.

FARMINGTON — A former Navajo Nation Council delegate found guilty of personal use of discretionary fund money intended for tribal members in financial distress will be sentenced today in Window Rock, Ariz.

Mel R. Begay is scheduled for sentencing at 11 a.m. in Window Rock District Court.

A six-member jury found the former tribal lawmaker guilty in March of one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and nine counts of making or permitting false tribal vouchers.

Begay could be sentenced for each complaint and potentially face up to 365 days in jail or fines up to $5,000 or both, in addition to paying restitution, according to Navajo law.

He served 13 years on the tribal council and represented the Bahastl'ah, Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti and Tohatchi chapters from January 2011 under the 24-member council.

The Navajo Election Administration removed Begay from the tribal council on April 15, declared the council seat vacant and opened the candidacy filing period.

Begay's attorney, Jennifer Baker, filed an appeal to overturn the removal with the tribe's Office of Hearings and Appeals on April 26.

Chief Hearing Officer Richie Nez dismissed the appeal on April 28 and ruled the election administration did not violate the Navajo Election Code in its decision.

Baker filed a notice to appeal the OHA ruling on May 6 with the Navajo Nation Supreme Court. She did not respond to a message seeking comment Monday.

Meanwhile, the election administration is continuing the process of conducting a special election to fill the vacancy.

Thirteen individuals filed candidacy papers for the position, according to the unofficial candidate list released by the election administration on Monday,

The candidates are Brent A. Detsoi and Anthony K. Howard of Bahastl'ah Chapter; Theresa A. Becenti-Aguilar, Ansley L. Curley, Harrison Plummer and Tom Ranger of Coyote Canyon Chapter; Karen E. Bedonie and Bobby Begaye of Mexican Springs Chapter; Steven Begay and Willis Nez of Naschitti Chapter; Edison A. Begay Jr., Elvis Bitsilly and Nathan L. Notah of Tohatchi Chapter.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-546-4636.