Former Navajo lawmakers sentenced for financial abuse
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Former Navajo Nation Council Speaker Johnny Naize was among 10 tribal officials sentenced today for misusing a financial assistance program designed to help tribal members seeking help.
Naize, who served as speaker from January 2011 to September 2014, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in official and political matters for issuing $36,550 in financial assistance to other delegates in exchange for the same amount being given to his family.
In September 2014, Naize entered into a plea agreement with the Navajo Nation special prosecutor and admitted to abusing the council's discretionary fund, the financial assistance program designed to provide tribal members facing financial hardship or emergency situations.
Window Rock District Court Judge Carol Perry sentenced Naize to pay $36,550 in restitution.
In lieu of jail time, Naize was ordered to make four one-hour presentations to the Blue Gap-Tachee, Cottonwood-Tselani, Low Mountain, Many Farms and Nazlini chapters in Arizona, which he represented on the 22nd council. The former speaker was ordered to write an apology to the chapters, as well as pay a $500 fine and attend "life value engagement classes" on Sept. 2.
In an agreement with the special prosecutor, Naize agreed to use the deferred compensation he received from his delegate service to pay $30,000 toward the restitution. The remaining $6,550 will be repaid by completing 131 hours of community service, which the court agreed would be valued at $50 per hour.
Naize did not address the court, but his cooperation with the special prosecutor was cited by his attorney, Troy Eid. Because of Naize's cooperation, Eid asked the court not to issue a jail sentence.
Attorney Marc Lowry, who represents the special prosecutor, agreed and said Naize was one of the few defendants who showed any level of remorse for his actions and offered a plan to repay the tribe.
Earlier in the day, former Delegate David L. Tom, who represented the Beclabito, Cove, Gadii'ahi-Tokoi, Red Valley, Toadlena-Two Grey Hills, Tooh Haltsooí and Tsé Alnaozt'i'í chapters, also was sentenced.
Tom pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit bribery in official and political matters in September 2014. Lowry said Tom agreed to provide information about the discretionary fund cases, but his help was never needed.
In an initial briefing with the special prosecutor, Tom did express remorse for his wrongdoing, Lowry said.
Perry sentenced Tom to pay $96,600 in restitution and provide half of his deferred compensation — which totals $72,735 — toward the restitution. Tom was not sentenced to jail because of a medical condition.
"Mr. Tom does have serious health issues with his heart," Samuel Pete, Tom's attorney, said.
Pete added Tom has been through four heart surgeries, takes medication and has a defibrillator implant.
After listening to the recommendations by Lowry, Pete and a probation officer, the judge sentenced Tom to unsupervised probation.
Nine other defendants also received sentences today.
Former Delegate Orlanda Smith-Hodge represented the Cornfields, Greasewood Springs, Klagetoh and Wide Ruins chapters in Arizona. She was among the council members whose family members received a high amount of assistance from the discretionary fund. Her immediate family and household members benefited from approximately $100,374 in financial assistance, according to court documents.
In a plea agreement, Smith-Hodge pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in official and political matters for $24,800.
During the hearing, Lowry said an example of the former delegate’s misuse was authorizing financial assistance 41 times to a 6-year-old household member. When Smith-Hodge authorized funding to the child, she was authorizing money to herself because she had access to the bank account, Lowry said. In another transaction, Smith-Hodge authorized financial assistance to the child’s account and withdrew the amount within three days at a Las Vegas casino, he said.
Because Smith-Hodge is employed in Phoenix, Perry sentenced her to pay $350 each month until the $24,800 in restitution is paid in full. If Smith-Hodge fails to pay, she will face jail time, Perry said.
Former Delegate Harry J. Willeto, who represented the Counselor, Nageezi and Ojo Encino chapters, was sentenced to pay $3,000 in restitution. Perry ordered that $100 each month be garnished from Willeto’s tribal pension until the restitution is paid.
Justin Jones, Willeto's attorney, said his client will not seek public office after he completes his current term as the Counselor Chapter president.
Perry sentenced former Delegate Ernest D. Yazzie Jr., who represented the Bááháálí and Church Rock chapters, to 365 days of supervised probation. Yazzie was also sentenced to pay restitution, but Perry did not specify an amount in court.
Former Delegate Leonard Teller was sentenced to 180 days in jail and was ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution. Teller will serve one day in jail each week until the 180 days is served and the remaining six days will be served in home detention due to medical issues. He was ordered to pay $200 each month until the restitution is paid in full.
Teller, who represented the Lukachukai, Tsaile and Wheatfields chapters in Arizona, said in a statement to the court that his actions caused him to "drift" from traditional Navajo teachings, and he is working toward becoming a better person.
Former Delegate Raymond Joe, who represented the Tachee, Blue Gap and Whippoorwill chapters in Arizona, was sentenced to 138 hours of community service and was ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution. Joe agreed to pay $150 each month until the restitution is paid.
Former Delegate Jack Colorado, who represented the Bodaway-Gap, Cameron and Coppermine chapters in Arizona, was sentenced to 180 days in jail with 150 days suspended. Colorado will serve the remaining 30 days by reporting to jail one day each week because of his poor health.
Former Delegate Harry Williams Sr., who represented the Coalmine Canyon and Tó Nanees Dizí chapters in Arizona, was sentenced to unsupervised probation of 365 days and was ordered to pay $5,000 in restitution.
Harry H. Clark, who represented the Chinle Chapter in Arizona, was sentenced to pay $5,550 in restitution and probation of 180 days. Clark agreed to pay $150 each month for 37 months.
Former legislative branch employee Victoria Cecil was sentenced to a year of supervised probation and ordered to pay $750 in restitution.
Of the defendants sentenced today, each one was ordered to attend "life value engagement class" on Sept. 2, in addition to submitting a written apology to the chapters they represented.
The court adjourned before former employee Laura Calvin and former delegates Lena Manheimer and George Arthur, and former Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan were sentenced.
Manheimer will be sentenced on Aug. 30, Calvin will be sentenced on Sept. 2, Morgan will be sentenced on Sept. 6 and a date for Arthur is pending.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.