Prosecutors: 10-15 to face new criminal charges in slush fund case

By Marley Shebala and Bill Donovan
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, July 26, 2012

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N avajo Nation special prosecutors tracking slush fund corruption informed the Window Rock District Court on Tuesday that they will file criminal complaints against 10 to 15 defendants.

The law firm of Rothstein, Donatelli, Hughes, Dahlstrom & Schoenburg of Tempe, Ariz., made the announcement in a motion to the court to extend their investigation of about 85 officials, mostly past or present members of the Navajo Nation Council, for three more months.

The new deadline, if granted, would be Oct. 26.

On Oct. 20, 2010, former Special Prosecutor Alan Balaran filed criminal charges involving conspiracy, theft, fraud and forgery against 77 of the then 88 Council delegates and then Vice President Ben Shelly for their alleged misuse of discretionary funds totaling about $1.9 million.

In July 2011, Balaran dropped the criminal charges and filed civil charges against an expanded list of 142 people including former President Joe Shirley Jr., the current and former attorneys general, Harrison Tsosie and Louis Denetsosie, Controller Mark Grant, 87 members of the former Council, and 50 un-named individuals who were listed as Joe Does.

In January 2011, as Shelly and former delegate Rex Lee Jim were taking office as the newly elected president and vice president of the Navajo Nation, they settled the complaints against them by agreeing to reimburse the tribe for the discretionary funds that they used for personal benefit.

Shelly had been accused of theft, fraud and conspiracy involving $8,850 in slush funds. Jim was accused of conspiracy and theft involving $3,200 in discretionary funds. The money is being repaid through paycheck deductions.

In most of the cases filed by Balaran, the monies involved range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. But some delegates are accused of taking tens of thousands of dollars and one case involves more than a quarter-million dollars.

About half of the delegates who have been charged have legal representation but the other half are representing themselves, which has hampered efforts to get settlements, said Eric Dahlstrom, spokesman for the special prosecutors.

Between now and Oct. 26, Dahlstrom is hoping to divide the named defendants into four groups.

The first group would include individuals accepting voluntary settlements with the prosecutor to reimburse the tribe for discretionary funds they misused. The restitution would be in bulk or made over time.

The second group consists of those whose actions are considered violations of tribal laws. In these cases, the civil suits would be dismissed and replaced with criminal charges, which could mean incarceration in tribal jail for up to a year.

The third group would be those who violated tribal ethics laws in connection with their use of tribal funds. Ethics complaints would be filed against them before the Office of Hearings and Appeals.

Those who lose would have to pay restitution and would be banned from holding elected office with the tribe for five years.

The special prosecutor will seek to dismiss charges with prejudice, meaning they cannot be filed, against a fourth group that likely would include Attorney General Harrison Tsosie, former Attorney General Denetsosie, and delegates LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad/Newcomb/San Juan/T'iistoh Sikaad/Tsé Daa Kaan/Upper Fruitland) and Leonard Tsosie (Baca-Prewitt/Casamero Lake/Counselor/Littlewater/Ojo Encino/Pueblo Pintado/Torreon/Whitehorse Lake).

Bates and Leonard Tsosie were among 11 delegates who were not charged in the original criminal cases, but who were among accused of wrongdoing in the civil suits.

On July 6 the special prosecutors asked the Window Rock District Court to dismiss the civil complaints against Harrison Tsosie, Denetsosie, Bates and Leonard Tsosie.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the court had not acted on the special prosecutors' new motion.

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