Naize pleads not guilty to conspiracy and bribery charges

Special Prosecutor's office files criminal charges against 15 current or former council delegates alleging misuse of discretionary fund

Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council Johnny Naize signs legislation in his office. WGCN/File photo

Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council Johnny Naize signs legislation in his office. WGCN/File photo

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - Navajo Nation Speaker Johnny Naize pleded not guilty to one complaint of conspiracy to commit bribery and 11 complaints of bribery on March 11 on charges that he and other council delegates engaged in a quid pro quo agreement to direct money from the Nation's discretionary fund to each other's family members, according the special prosecutor's office. No trial date for Naize has been set.

Pretrial hearings and arraignments took place last week in Window Rock District Court for Naize and current and former council delegates from the Navajo Nation who special prosecutors allege engaged in bribery and conspiracy to enrich their families by "abusing the scarce resources of the Navajo Nation."

Two pretrial hearings and two arraignments took place.

The Navajo Nation Council established the discretionary fund to provide financial relief to needy constituents.

The special prosecutors said it took a long time to build the cases against the members and it has been expensive for the Navajo Nation to prosecute because many council delegates initially would not voluntarily provide information about the financial assistance program.

"That has finally changed," the statement from the special prosecutor's office said. "We finally have a number of cooperating witnesses that will allow us to bring these cases to trial to obtain justice for the Navajo Nation."

Council Delegate Edmund Yazzie who represents Churchrock, Iyanbito, Mariano Lake, Pinedale, Smith Lake, and Thoreau, told the special prosecutors that because the fund had no financial controls, "direct and indirect payments of financial assistance to household members became more and more common."

He said the fund became a "free for all where funds were often misused."

Council Delegate Nelson Begaye who represents Lukachukai, Round Rock, Tsaile/Wheatfields, Tse Ch'izhi and Rock Point, said "the way the financial assistance program was run was wrong and was the direct result of a lack of financial controls within the legislative branch."

Former council delegates Raymond Joe and Harry Williams, Sr. pleded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery, according to the statement from the special prosecutors.

"In those pleas, which were accepted by the Window Rock District Court, both Harry Williams Sr. and Raymond Joe gave detailed explanations about the payment of financial assistance to other council delegates in exchange for payments to their family members," the statement said.

The special prosecutor's office has filed criminal charges against 15 current or former council delegates and against one former legislative employee. In addition, the special prosecutor has filed complaints for violation of ethics in government law against 12 former and current council delegates.

Two criminal defendants have entered guilty pleas and the rest of the criminal cases are now moving toward trial in the Window Rock District Court. The ethics in government complaints are pending with the Navajo Nation Office of Hearing Appeals. Five of those cases have settled and the remaining cases are moving toward hearings.

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