More slush fund charges filed

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, April 9, 2013

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More charges have been filed by the Navajo Nation's special prosecution in connection with the ongoing investigation into allegations of misuse of tribal discretionary funds.

The charges filed on Tuesday in Window Rock District Court were against Navajo Nation Council Delegate David Tom and Victoria Cecil, am employees within the Office of the Speaker of the Navajo Nation.

These are the second and third charges to be filed by the special prosecutor. In April, charges were filed against former delegate Ernest D. Yazzie, claiming that he had misappropriated $95,000 from the tribe's discretionary fund.

These are the first charges against a current member of the Council and the first against an employee of the tribe in connection with the ongoing investigation.

The charges against Tom deal with transactions he made between 2005 and 2009 when he was a representative of the Beclabito and Gadii'ahi chapters. They tie into the charges that have been filed against Yazzie, which said that the two entered into a conspiracy so that Yazzie could get Tom to issue funds from his discretionary funds allocation to benefit Yazzie's family and, in return, Yazzie would use his funds to benefit Tom's family.

The tribal Council appropriated approximately $3.2 million between 2005 and 2009 to fund the discretionary fund program, which was supposed to be used to benefit needy members of the tribe. An investigation by the tribe's first special prosecutor, Alan Balaran, revealed that a good portion of that money was used by members of the Council to benefit their own families. A total of 77 of the 88 members of the Council during that period have had charges filed against them at one time or another.

During those years, Tom received an allocation of $584,000 and according to the charges filed by Balaran, he is alleged to have entered into conspiracies with other members of the Council to provide almost half of that amount to family members.

The current special prosecutors, Eric Dahlstron and Richard Hughes, are in the process of going through the files left by Balaran and are dismissing some of the cases, settling others and filing charges against some.

In the current charges against Tom, the complaints allege that Tom conspired with Yazzie to provide $95,000 to Tom's family with Tom's wife getting $26,300, his daughter, $25,900, his sons receiving a total of $34,700 and another $10,000 being paid to another dependent.

As with Yazzie, many of the funds turned over to Tom's family were based on allegedly false applications they filed with the speaker's office.

For example, Tom allegedly agreed to allow part of his discretionary funds to go to pay for college tuition for Yazzie's family, even though they were all still attending grade school or high school at the time.

In exchange, Yazzie allegedly agreed, for example, to give $20,000 in grants to a minor living in Tom's household, but the complaint states that these funds were actually used by Tom for his own personal benefit.

For example, Tom received $2,000 for a Yei Bi Chei ceremony for the child but instead of using it for the ceremony, he allegedly used it to purchase an all-terrain vehicle. In another case, Tom received a check for $2,000 to purchase a laptop for the child but instead he allegedly kept the $2,000 for himself.

During those years, members of the Council made a salary of $25,000 a year but were also paid fees for attending chapter and other meetings, which brought their total compensation annually to between $60,000 and $70,000.

As for Cecil, she was not among those who had charges filed against her by Balaran. The complaints against her allege that she falsified information to get Council delegates to give her financial assistance and that she lied about this when she was interviewed by the special prosecutors.

Between 2005 and 2009, Cecil worked in the special assistance office and used her knowledge, according to the complaints, to obtain financial assistance for her minor children and mother. Between May 2007 and June 2009, Cecil submitted 22 financial assistance requests for her children (or about one a month), receiving more than $7,500 in aid.

In doing so, according to the compliant, she put down false information on the applications.

For example, in one of the requests she made - in November, 2007 - she requested $1,500 for tuition for classes at the University of New Mexico in Gallup. This request was made on behalf of Cecil's two-year-old child, prosecutors allege.

Another request she made, through Council delegate Phil Harrison, was for $750 for the same child and for the same purpose, according to the complaint.

In another case, Cecil submitted an application in April 2009 for her three minor children to travel to North Carolina to visit their father who, according to her application, was scheduled to go to Iraq the following month.

The complaint said that was a lie. The father was never deployed to Iraq. Instead, he was serving in a unit that was never deployed.

In that same month, Cecil allegedly applied for funds for an entirely fictitious child, who was also wanting to visit the father before he was deployed to Iraq. In that request she used, according to the complaint, an adult's census number and social Security number that did not belong to any of Cecil's children.

The complaint also states that Cecil submitted 50 applications during that period (or more than two a month) for financial assistance for her elderly mother. These totaled $21,750 with many of the applications for payment of expenses to travel to Albuquerque to Presbyterian Hospital for tests and evaluations.

"This claim is entirely false," said the complaint, since Cecil's mother was never seen at the Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque in 2007, 2008 or 2009.

The complaint also states that when Cecil was questioned by the special prosecutor, she lied about her requests for financial assistance, saying that her mother did have medical appointments at the hospital.

The charges against Cecil indicate that the special prosecutors are going beyond the scope of Balaran's investigation and are looking at requests that were approved for people working for the legislative branch, who may have realized what was going on in the program and, using the same tactics that Council delegates were allegedly using, submitted the same kind of applications to get a portion of the discretionary funds for themselves illegally.