Thursday, March 30, 2023

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Pearline Kirk found not guilty in Covid-testing contract


The Navajo Nation’s former top financial officer was found not guilty on five charges Friday.

A Navajo jury acquitted former Controller Pearline Kirk, said David R. Jordan, her attorney, in an interview with the Navajo Times. Kirk was accused of misrepresenting information on a company hired to do rapid COVID-19 testing in the Nation.

Kirk was terminated as the controller of the Nation in May 2021, when prosecutors first filed complaints against her. Former President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez appointed her as the controller in February 2017.

“The case we just tried is actually a different case,” Jordan explained. “We were scheduled to go to trial in December 2021. They (prosecutors) moved to continue the case. The judge denied their motion days before the trial was supposed to begin.

“They dismissed the first case without prejudice,” he said. “That way, they could get the continuance the judge had denied them. And they refiled a few days later. So, we started a brand-new case.”

Jordan said the case recently tried had five charges against Kirk. Two charges were for falsification, two for paying for salary, wages, or remuneration for personal services that have not been rendered, and one was for obtaining signature through deception.

“All of it stemmed out of an Agile contract that President Nez signed on Nov. 20, 2020,” Jordan explained. “Agile was a testing company that they were testing for Covid. So, all five charges stemmed from that contract. They (prosecutors) alleged that Ms. Kirk engaged in falsification associated with that contract.”

Criminal complaints filed in December 2021 in tribal court alleged Kirk violated tribal law in advising the tribal government to hire Agile Technologies Group LLC.

The tribe’s Department of Justice alleged Kirk violated the law in advising the tribal government to hire Agile to conduct rapid COVID-19 testing based on a recommendation from Kirk’s longtime mentor, an attorney of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation.

The department stated Agile wasn’t qualified but received over $3 million for pandemic-related services, including testing for about 120 employees in the controller’s office.

“A lot of what came out at trial was that the Navajo Nation had many workers who were designed as essential workers that they were required to work during the pandemic, and they did almost nothing to protect those workers from Covid when they came into work,” Jordan said. “The controller’s office were not given masks until long into the pandemic, and Pearline was paying her daughter to sew masks at home, and that was the only masks they were getting.”

Sources familiar with the matter said Kirk paid a young woman, not her daughter.

“They weren’t getting PPE (personal protective equipment), they weren’t getting anything to purify the air, they weren’t getting testing––they weren’t getting anything, and these people were required to work every day,” Jordan said. “And they were terrified. It is a dark story out of the pandemic that so many workers were required to work without being given any protection.”

Jordan said the Agile contract was signed in November 2020, eight months into the pandemic. He said employees went to Kirk and asked for the contract. And once the testing was in place, they could get tested daily.
All five charges were filed in December 2021. The trial started on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023.

The trial went on for nine days. The jury deliberated for about a day and a half and delivered a not-guilty verdict Friday afternoon.

To read more, pick up Thursday’s edition of the Navajo Times.


About The Author

Krista Allen

Krista Allen is editor of the Navajo Times.


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