Aubrey convicted, Carl goes free

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

CHINLE, May 3, 2013

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(Times photo - Cindy Yurth)

TOP:Chester Carl and Bill Aubrey (right) leave the courtroom with attorneys during their embezzlement trial.

A federal jury apparently did not buy contractor Bill Aubrey's argument that $2.2 million he gambled with and spent on cars, jewelry and race horse training in the early 2000s was his own money.

Aubrey, the 69-year-old owner of Lodgebuilder, Inc. out of Mesquite, Nev., was convicted in U.S. District Court Thursday of two counts of conversion of money and funds from a tribal organization in connection with two aborted housing developments on the Navajo Nation.

His co-defendant, former NHA head Chester Carl — who was accused of accepting $20,000 in gambling chips from Aubrey in exchange for favorable treatment for his company – was acquitted on all counts.

Aubrey will be sentenced Aug. 7 in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, Nev. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each charge.

Carl, 56, who resigned from the NHA in 2007 after the scandal surfaced, is still banned from involvement in federally funded housing projects until the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare reverses that decision.

This could affect the ability of the Navajo Nation Council's Resources and Development Committee to hire him as a consultant in its attempt to take over control of federal housing grants from the Navajo Housing Authority, as the committee discussed in a previous meeting.

The jury's decision came after a 13-day trial in which assistant U.S. attorneys Timothy Vasquez and Kathryn Newman argued Aubrey spent millions in federal grant money that was supposed to pay Lodgebuilder's subcontractors on the Chilchinbeto Estates project.

Aubrey's attorney said Aubrey had fronted the money for the project and was using the grant to pay himself back. The project only crashed after NHA and HUD, finding irregularities in the relationship between Lodgebuilder and NHA's sub-grantee, Fort Defiance Housing Corp., stopped funneling grant funds to FDHC and Lodgebuilder, defense attorney Michael Kennedy told the jury. Lodgebuilder declared bankruptcy in 2004.

Carl's attorney, Todd Leventhal, maintained Carl had accompanied Aubrey on a gambling spree at the Tropicana casino and used some of Aubrey's chips, but when the time came to cash them in, he gave all the money back to Aubrey.

Daniel G. Bogden, U.S. Attorney for the state of Nevada, lauded Aubrey's conviction in a press release, stating, "The Navajo Nation counted on the monies stolen by the defendant housing for its members. This defendant stole from the tribe and the American people, and used the monies to finance an extravagant lifestyle."

Lodgebuilder's Chilchinbeto Estates was finished by NHA and is presently occupied. The unfinished Lodgebuilder development in Shiprock has been so badly vandalized that the NHA recently decided to tear the homes down at a cost of $9 million, and rebuild them.

A three-year moratorium on new NHA construction imposed by HUD after the scandal is set to be lifted in the coming fiscal year.

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