The Navajo Nation Special Prosecutor announced that they are expecting former Navajo Nation Council Speaker Lawrence Morgan to plead guilty to six criminal charges of bribery and one criminal charge of conspiracy on Sept. 10.
Initially, Morgan pleaded not guilty to all seven charges on March 11, 2014. The special prosecutor filed the seven complaints against Morgan on Dec. 3, 2013.
The seven complaints are related to an alleged scheme between Morgan, Speaker Johnny Naize and former Navajo Nation Council Delegates Young Jeff Tom Sr.; Ernest D. Yazzie, Hoskie Kee to financially enrich themselves with an emergency assistance fund created to help constituents that were in the most need.
Morgan is among the eight former Council delegates and one current delegate that Naize allegedly bribed with emergency money or slush funds so Naize could allegedly obtain slush funds. The eight former delegates are Morgan, Willeto, George Arthur, Elmer Milford, Orlinda Smith-Hodge, Andy Ayze, Leonard Teller, and Raymond Joe. Delegate David Tom is the only delegate presently serving on the Council. Tom is a member of the Council’s Resources and Development Committee.
According to the criminal complaints against Naize and Morgan, it was clear from the Council’s priority list that the Navajo people identified as the most in need of emergency assistance or discretionary funds was elders on a fixed income or the unemployed who needed to pay for housing, fuel, transportation, medical expenses and food.
The next priority was students enrolled in high school, college, vocational school, or short-term educational programs, who needed financial assistance with tuition, clothing, books, lodging, transportation and other educational costs.
The emergency assistance was also prioritized for the elders, chapters, youth activities, veterans and traditional ceremonies.
The special prosecutor noted that Navajo law was very clear prohibiting Council delegates from authorizing financial assistance for “a family member (or) a business associate in accordance with the Ethics in Government law and the supplicant (sic) code of conduct.”
But according to criminal complaints involving conspiracy to commit bribery in official and political matters, Naize allegedly conspired with nine Council delegates and Morgan conspired with four delegates to create a scheme to get around the ethics law that involved two delegates agreeing to authorize discretionary fund for each other’s children, wives and family members.
The special prosecutor called the scheme a simple “You scratch my back and I will scratch your back” plan that was basically “unlawful.”
It’s alleged that Morgan and his family benefited from about $17,550 in slush funds.
According to the complaints against Naize and Morgan, the alleged misuse of the discretionary fund occurred between 1991 and 2011, which was during their terms as delegates on the Council.
Abbie Fink, public relations officer for the special prosecutor, stated in an email on Sept. 9, “We anticipate that former Speaker Morgan will enter a plea of guilty in Window Rock District Court tomorrow.”
Fink, who is the vice president and general manager of HMA Public Relations of Phoenix, Ariz., also stated that Morgan’s hearing tomorrow, Sept. 10, is at 8:30 a.m.
The special prosecutor is the Temp, Ariz., law firm of Rothstein, Donatelli, Hughes, Dahstrom & Schoenburg.