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Former Navajo Nation Speaker Pleads Guilty to Misuse of Tribal Funds

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Megan Farmer/The Daily Times
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A former speaker of the Navajo Nation Council has pleaded guilty to misusing tribal funds. As Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, several other current and former Navajo lawmakers have been implicated in the wide-ranging case. 

Lawrence Morgan will likely avoid jail time as a result of his guilty plea in Window Rock District Court. In exchange, he’ll assist prosecutors in the case involving several current and former members of the Navajo Nation Council.

Prosecutors allege that several members took part in a scheme to divert money from a discretionary fund to each other’s families. The emergency fund was intended to help poor and elderly tribal members as well as provide scholarships.

Chris Deschene is a former Arizona state house representative and a current candidate for Navajo Nation president.

“We say it in Navajo that our young and our elders, those who need a little more assistance should eat first, and then our leadership. To me, the problem’s too big for just one person or one branch,” Deschene says.

Current council speaker Johnny Naize is among the lawmakers facing charges in the case. According to prosecutors, he misused nearly $37,000 in tribal funds.

In July, Naize was arraigned for bribery and conspiracy, but has pleaded not guilty. According to The Daily Times, he, along with four current and former delegates, will stand trial in Window Rock District Court.

Laurel Morales from the Changing America Desk contributed to this report.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.
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