Naize pleads guilty, steps down as Navajo Nation Speaker

Remaining defendants in conspiracy to commit bribery case all plead guilty

Navajo Nation Speaker Johnnny Naize signs legislation in his office. Naize stepped down as speaker and council delegate Sept. 29 and pled guilty Sept. 30 to conspiracy to commit bribery charges. Photo/Rick Abasta

Navajo Nation Speaker Johnnny Naize signs legislation in his office. Naize stepped down as speaker and council delegate Sept. 29 and pled guilty Sept. 30 to conspiracy to commit bribery charges. Photo/Rick Abasta

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - The remaining defendants in a criminal trial against Navajo Nation officials accused of conspiracy to commit bribery by taking money from the Nation's discretionary fund have all pled guilty before the Window Rock District Court.

Navajo Nation Speaker Johnny Naize, who was on administrative leave, pled guilty on criminal charges brought by the special prosecutor office and resigned from his positions on the Navajo Nation Council Sept. 29 and 30 respectively.

Naize resigned from his position as speaker of the Navajo Nation Council and as a council delegate Sept. 29. A day later he entered a guilty plea on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery before the Window Rock District Court.

"I have been privileged to represent the communities of Tselani, Cottonwood, Nazlini, Many Farms, Tachee, Blue Gap and Low Mountain," Naize said. "The progress made in my sixteen years of service as an elected official fills me with the utmost thanks

for the projects and improvements made for my communities."

In his guilty plea, Naize acknowledged that if he chose to go to trail instead of entering the plea, the Navajo Nation could produce facts sufficient to establish his guilt to the charges brought against him.

"I am pleading guilty because I am, in fact, guilty of the offense to which I am pleading guilty," Naize said. "I recognize and accept responsibility for my criminal conduct."

As all other current and former council delegates have done in their guilty pleas, Naize said he conspired with other council delegates who were charged with similar criminal offenses by the special prosecutor's office.

In court papers, Naize said he and other delegates exchanged benefits to each other in order to "influence and control their exercise of discretion in causing the disbursement of financial assistance money to each other and their families."

"From 2006 to 2009, I entered into agreements with other Navajo Nation officials, specifically George Arthur, Raymond Joe, Orlanda Smith-Hodge, David Tom, Leonard Teller and Lawrence T. Morgan...," according to Naize's guilty plea.

Naize confirmed that he authorized $12,500 in financial assistance to Arthur's family, $11,400 to Joe's family, $2,800 to Smith-Hodge's family, $2,400 to Tom's family and $1,300 to Teller's family.

"In each of those cases, Johnny Naize authorized the payments with the understanding that those other delegates, would, in return, authorize the same amounts to Speaker Naize's family members," the special prosecutor's said. "[We] also filed criminal charges against each of the other council delegate individuals."

Naize may be sentenced to 0-90 days in jail, probation and community service and the court may request monetary restitution to the Navajo Nation.

In his guilty plea, George Arthur admitted that from 2006 to 2009 he authorized payments to Naize, Norman John, Elmer Milford, Teller, and Ervin Keeswood.

Arthur confirmed that he authorized $12,500 to Naize's family, $$6,500 to John's family, $6,500 to $4,900 to Milford's family, $1,100 to Teller's family and $900 to Keeswood's family.

Arthur may be sentenced to no more than 180 days in jail, probation and community service and the court may request monetary restitution to the Navajo Nation.

In his guilty plea, Leonard Teller admitted that from 2005-2009 he authorized payments to Raymond Joe, Harry Claw, Nelson Begaye, Keeswood, Naize and Evelyn Acothley.

Teller confirmed that he authorized $4,500 to Joe's family, over $4,000 to Claw's family, $1,800 to Begaye's family, $1,600 to Keeswood's family, $1,300 to Naize's family and $500 to Acothley's family.

Teller may be sentenced to 0-180 days in jail, probation and community service. The court may request monetary restitution to the Navajo Nation.

In his guilty plea, David Tom admitted that from 2006-2009 he authorized payments to Ernest D. Yazzie Jr.'s family in the amount of $95,000.

He may be sentenced to a period of no more than 180 days in jail, probation and community service and the court may request monetary restitution to the Nation.

Naize, who served as a member of the Navajo Nation Council since 1999, thanked the members of the Council, legislative staff and Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly for their service and assistance in helping the Navajo people.

"I wish him and his family the best as they move forward," Speaker Pro Tem LoRenzo Bates said.

According to Navajo Nation law, written notice of resignation to the Navajo Nation Election Administration is effective immediately and the Election Administration is authorized to declare a vacancy.

Edison Wauneka, executive director of the Navajo Nation Election Administration, said a vacancy declaration was expected Sept. 29.

The impacted chapters have 45 days to recommend an individual to fulfill the vacant position. According to Navajo Nation law, an appointment to fill the vacancy will be at the discretion of the speaker or speaker pro tem of the council.

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