Making headway

Window Rock court schedules update on discretionary fund cases

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, April 27, 2012

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The end may be near for the resolution of many of the cases against Navajo Nation officials who are accused of misusing discretionary funds.

Judicial officials said Thursday that Window Rock District Court Judge Carol Perry has scheduled a hearing on May 31 to get an update about special prosecutor team member Eric Dahlstrom's efforts to get settlements with 77 past and current officials who were named in a civil suit filed by former special prosecutor Alan Balaran just months before he stepped down.

These include 73 former and current Council delegates, former president Joe Shirley Jr., former and current attorney general Louis Denetsosie and Harrison Tsosie, and the controller, Mark Grant.

Dahlstrom informed the court that he is in final negotiations with a number of these individuals about settling their cases and has made “considerable headway" in a number of other cases.

Dahlstrom and other members of his firm spent the past six months reviewing the paperwork left by Balaran and talking to various defendants.

The process has taken longer than expected, the special prosecutors said, in part because almost half of the defendants have opted to represent themselves.

This process has been going on since early 2010 when Balaran was hired to look to look into allegations that Shirley had violated tribal laws in connection with monies paid to the failed business enterprises OnSat and BCDS.

But Balaran decided to also probe allegations into misuse of a multi-million dollar discretionary fund set up by the Council to help Navajos in need. Rules were set up limiting how much each individual could get as well as restrictions against providing money to family members.

But after the Navajo Times published stories questioning whether these rules were being followed, this became Balaran's major focus, leading to criminal complaints filed against 78 former and current members of the Council.

He managed to get settlements from several defendants, including the current president and vice president, Ben Shelly and Rex Lee Jim, but before any of the cases had a hearing stage, Balaran decided to dismiss the criminal cases and refile them as civil cases just a couple of months before his contract as special prosecutor ended and he was replaced.

The civil suits filed by Balaran also centered on misuse of discretionary funds but included other officials who were added for failing to comply with their duties to make sure the funds were used appropriately.

The investigation has cost the tribe hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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