Navajo Nation Council delegate faces additional criminal charges

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ. — A four-term tribal lawmaker is facing additional criminal charges for his alleged abuse of the discretionary fund.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Mel R. Begay was charged on July 13 with seven counts of making or permitting false tribal vouchers for issuing $4,500 in financial assistance, according to a press release from the tribe's special prosecutor.

The council created the discretionary fund to provide financial help to tribal members facing financial hardship or in need of emergency assistance.

Begay represents the chapters of Bahastl'ah, Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti and Tohatchi.

The complaints were filed by the special prosecutor on July 13 in Window Rock District Court here.

Begay declined to comment on Wednesday and referred questions to his attorney, Jennifer Baker of Fredericks, Peebles and Morgan LLC in Louisville, Colo.

Baker did not respond to a message for comment Wednesday.

Each complaint outlines the process Begay used with two of his daughters and a son to submitted letters requesting financial assistance. The letters were written in a style that did not show the direct relationship between the parties, according to court documents.

According to one of the complaints, on April 9, 2008, Begay's son submitted a letter stating that he needed assistance to participate in a cultural exchange to Mexico during spring break and listed an estimated cost of $1,055.

The court document further explains that the son's trip was from March 28, 2008, to April 4, 2008, so Begay knew his son was home and knew the cost of the trip because it had already occurred.

Despite that information, Begay approved $700 in financial assistance on April 14, 2008, according to the court document.

Another complaint alleges one of Begay's daughters claimed she needed $920 to pay for summer school tuition and books in a letter dated June 8, 2009.

The complaint alleges that Begay knew at the time that the summer school cost $100 and his daughter was not required to pay for books, but he issued a $600 check on June 9, 2009.

Begay is awaiting trial for nine criminal charges filed by the special prosecutor last year. Those charges alleged Begay provided $33,750 in financial assistance to his six children from 2006 to 2010.

For the new set of charges, an arraignment is scheduled for Begay at 10 a.m. on Aug. 10, according to the press release.

The press release also included an update about the ongoing discretionary fund case.

As of Tuesday, the special prosecutor has filed 140 criminal complaints, totaling $843,535, against 15 current and former delegates and two tribal employees for allegedly misusing the financial assistance program.

Additionally, the special prosecutor filed complaints against 12 current or former delegates, alleging they violated the tribe's Ethics in Government Act.

Twelve former delegates have been convicted of crimes after pleading guilty or no contest.

In addition to Begay, former delegates Hoskie Kee and Young Jeff Tom Sr. are awaiting trial. The trials for Kee and Tom were transferred from the Window Rock District Court to the Dilkon Judicial District in Dilkon, Ariz., in June.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.