Former Navajo Lawmakers Plead Guilty to Misuse of Tribal Funds

Feb 21, 2014

Two former Navajo Nation lawmakers have pleaded guilty in a case that involves misuse of tribal funds. As Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, the case also implicates several other members of the Navajo Nation Council.

Navajo Nation Council Chambers

Earlier this week, the two lawmakers agreed to each plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit bribery. In exchange, prosecutors dropped the six other counts of bribery each was facing. The plea deals struck by Raymond Joe and Harry Williams Sr. represent the first official admissions of guilt in the case that involves several current and former members of the Navajo Nation Council.

The pleas stem from a scheme in which council members authorized payments totaling nearly $75,000 to fellow councilmembers’ families. In exchange, their own families would also benefit from similar payments. According to the defendants, it was all an attempt to circumvent tribal law. The money came from a discretionary fund intended for student financial aid, people facing hardship and assistance for elderly Navajo.

Both Joe and Williams will avoid jail time as part of the plea, but must cooperate with prosecutors in other similar cases. They may also have to pay back tens of thousands of dollars.

Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council Johnny Naize is also facing charges related to the case. Last month he narrowly avoided removal from his position on the council. Naize will be arraigned next month for 10 counts of bribery and a conspiracy charge, but maintains his innocence.