Former Navajo lawmakers will face sentencing
Thirteen former lawmakers, as well as two former Legislative Branch employees, will be sentenced this week for their involvement in misusing the tribe's discretionary fund
FARMINGTON — Thirteen former Navajo Nation Council delegates will be sentenced this week for their involvement in abusing a financial assistance program designed to help tribal members facing financial hardship.
Former delegates Ernest D. Yazzie Jr., David L. Tom, Leonard Teller, Raymond Joe, Harry J. Willeto, Jack Colorado, Harry Williams Sr., Harry H. Clark, Orlanda Smith-Hodge, Lena Manheimer, George Arthur, Johnny Naize and Lawrence T. Morgan will each have a sentencing hearing on Wednesday in Window Rock District Court in Window Rock, Ariz. The hearings are set to start at 8:30 a.m.
Naize became the first elected speaker under the 24-member council in January 2011 but resigned in September 2014 after he was charged with 11 counts of bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in connection to misusing the discretionary fund.
Morgan, who served four consecutive terms as speaker from January 2003 to January 2011, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit bribery in September 2014. He was charged in December 2013 with six counts of bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery.
Also scheduled for sentencing are former Legislative Branch employees Victoria Cecil and Laura Calvin.
Each one either pleaded guilty or no contest to charges of conspiracy, making or permitting false tribal voucher, conflict of interest or adversely affecting confidence of the people in the government.
The sentencing hearings are arranged to each last 30 minutes, but the judge has the authority to adjust the schedule, according to information released by the Navajo Nation Special Prosecutor.
The council created the discretionary fund to provide financial assistance to tribal members facing emergency situations or financial hardship.
In October 2010, the special prosecutor filed the first set of criminal charges against 77 delegates. At that time, the council consisted of 88 members.
Nearly all of the criminal complaints were dismissed and replaced by civil charges filed in July 2011 against 81 lawmakers and other high ranking tribal officials.
Since then, the special prosecutor has continued filing criminal charges against former delegates and employees.
Throughout the case, the special prosecutor's investigation revealed arrangements between lawmakers to circumvent tribal ethics and laws.
One such arrangement had Delegate A authorizing money to a family member of Delegate B. In return, Delegate B would authorize funding to Delegate A’s family member, according to court documents.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.