Audit finds possible ‘criminal activity’ at NHA

WINDOW ROCK

A forensic audit of the Navajo Housing Authority’s non-program funds has concluded there might have been some “criminal activity” with the funds, Navajo Nation president’s office lawyer Karis Begaye told the Naabik’iyáti’ Committee on Dec. 28.

“Non-program funds” are the monies the NHA raises on its own through rent and other fees, as opposed to federal grants, which are more strictly monitored.

Begaye, a member of the NHA Reform Task Force established by President Russell Begaye after Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wanted a review of the entity’s non-program funds as well as the possibility of capping the NHA’s federal funding at 10 percent, called NHA’s accounting “a mess.”

The forensic audit reviewed by the task force focused mostly on the years 2014-16, although it included some questionable transactions that go back as far as 2004.

“We do need additional investigation steps to fully understand NHA and its use of its funds and its questionable activity,” said Karis Begaye. “There could be potential ethical concerns and criminal.”

Begaye added NHA’s accounting methods made the audit difficult.

“They use one account for program funds and non-program funds,” she said. “Our auditors had a difficult time identifying the expenditures of the funds.”

She added there was not proper accounting for actual expenditures; the Navigator system that NHA is currently using may not be appropriate for the entity; and the former board lacked transparency, making it impossible for the auditors to understand exactly why certain transactions were made.

“There was an excessive number of executive sessions and there wasn’t really any discussions on how NHA (would) spend the funds when it came to passing board resolutions,” said Begaye. “That became problematic for our auditors because there was a lot of transactions that couldn’t be justified.”

Not only was the board opaque, but top NHA brass worked within their own silos and failed to confer with each other on finances, the auditors found.

“We realized we needed to take this farther than just with the NHA board,” said Karis Begaye, speaking for the task force. “McCain supported the (funding) cap, and as a result of these threats we decided to assist NHA board in identifying problems and start making changes.”

Budget and Finance Committee member Leonard Tsosie said the report gives no indication of the main purpose of NHA and that’s to build homes. He said past CEOs Aneva Yazzie and Chester Carl should be called out because these problems stem from when they were in charge.

Aneva Yazzie

“We have former director Aneva Yazzie and Chester Carl – use their name … if need be do public shaming to them,” said Tsosie. “It’s their fault. They’ve caused the loss of millions of dollars and hundreds of homes to Navajo people, and they may have cost that forever.”

He continued to say that those who brought up concerns with NHA management were not on the task force, nor its working groups. He suggested the approach be more fundamental, possibly even abolishing the NHA board and revoking NHA’s status as the Tribally Designated Housing Entity to receive funds under the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act.

“I don’t see any new thinking in the proposal,” said Tsosie. “I strongly recommend do away with your committee that you set up and set up an ad hoc task force in cooperation with the legislative and executive branch.”

Health, Education and Human Services Committee member Nathaniel Brown agreed with Tsosie on “public shaming” of past CEOs but he also questioned what would happened if the TDHE was revoked from NHA.

The TDHE is currently in the hands of NHA so they are able to receive NAHASDA funds on the Nation’s behalf. There have been attempts to revoke the TDHE and give it to the Navajo Nation, especially during Yazzie’s tenure as CEO.

There have been public discussions and examples given by homeowners themselves as to why NHA did not deserve the title. But nothing has changed, yet.

HEHS Chairman Jonathan Hale recommended appointing Council delegates to the reform task force. Hale had sponsored a TDHE revocation bill previously, and said maybe the bill could be revived depending on the complete findings of the audit report.

Roberta Roberts addressed the Council and said as interim NHA CEO she created five goals. The first one is making sure NHA’s $94 million backlog is spent – since Oct 1st there has been $17 million spent so far — as well as compliance monitoring, training and safety.

The final audit will not be made public. The Office of Chief Prosecutor and Ethics and Rules Office deemed it private.

Other members of the NHA Reform Task Force include: Jackson Brossy, executive director, Navajo Nation Washington Office; Carl Smith, executive director, Division of Community Development; Bidtah Becker, Division of Natural Resources; Ethel Branch, attorney general; Sophina Taylor, speaker’s office; Roberta Roberts, interim NHA CEO; and Rex Kontz, NHA deputy general manager.

These members also made up three working groups: grant beneficiary team; land reform team; and NAHASDA team.


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About Author

Arlyssa Becenti

Arlyssa Becenti reports on Navajo Nation Council, Business, Fort Defiance Agency, New Mexico State politics and Art/fashion. Her clans are Nát'oh dine'é Táchii'nii, Bit'ahnii, Kin łichii'nii, Kiyaa'áanii. She’s originally from Fort Defiance and has a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University. Before working for the Navajo Times she was a reporter for the Gallup Independent. She can be reached at abecenti@navajotimes.com.