Special Prosecutor for the Navajo Nation
Rothstein, Donatelli, Hughes, Dahlstrom & Schoenburg, LLP
80 East Rio Salado Parkway, Suite 710
Tempe, Arizona 85281
SPECIAL PROSECUTOR JUly 16, 2014, NEWS RELEASE
WINDOW ROCK DISTRICT COURT ISSUES IMPORTANT RULINGS WHICH ALLOW TRIALS IN CORRUPTION CASES
The Window Rock District Court has recently issued a number of important rulings which the Special Prosecutor said will pave the way for trials in the remaining criminal corruption cases. The Special Prosecutor brought conspiracy, bribery and other charges against Navajo Nation Council Delegates for paying Navajo Nation funds to the Council Delegates’ family members.
During a hearing on May 23, 2014 the Window Rock District Court allowed former Council Delegate, Ernest D. Yazzie, Jr., to withdraw his claim that the Special Prosecutor had coerced and intimidated Yazzie family members during the investigation into Council Delegate corruption. Former Council Delegate Yazzie refused, during two separate pretrial examinations, to offer any factual support for his allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. Yazzie finally elected to withdraw his allegations after learning during a hearing that any false allegation of prosecutorial misconduct could be used against him at his trial. The Special Prosecutor stated today that since that court hearing, no other allegation of prosecutorial misconduct has been raised by any defendant.
On July 14, 2014, the Court rejected the claim by former Council Delegate George Arthur that the conspiracy to commit bribery, as well as the six bribery complaints, had been filed by the Special Prosecutor after the time allowed by the Navajo Nation’s Statute of Limitations had expired. The Window Rock District Court’s ruling will now allow a trial of all the criminal complaints against George Arthur. According to the Special Prosecutor, the Court’s recent ruling in Defendant Arthur’s case clears the way for all of the criminal complaints filed against former and current Council Delegates to be brought to trial. As a result, unless the remaining defendants decide to reach a negotiated plea agreement, the Navajo Nation will take each of these cases to trial.
The Window Rock District Court also recently rejected former Council Delegate George Arthur’s motion to dismiss the seven criminal complaints filed against him on sovereign immunity grounds. The Court explained that the Navajo Nation’s Sovereign Immunity does not shield government officials from prosecution for unlawful conduct. Again, the Special Prosecutor explained that the Court’s reasoning in Defendant Arthur’s case should apply equally to all of the remaining criminal defendants in the government corruption cases.
On July 15, 2014, the Window Rock District Court accepted an agreement between the Special Prosecutor and former Council Delegate Harry Willeto in which he agreed to provide assistance to the Navajo Nation in its efforts to resolve the remaining cases. By entering a guilty plea to conspiracy to commit bribery, former Council Delegate Willeto acknowledged that:
“[F]rom 2005 to 2011, I agreed with other Navajo Nation officials, specifically Harry Clark, Jack Colorado and Johnny Naize, whereby we exchanged benefits with each other in order to influence and control our exercise of discretion in causing the disbursement of financial assistance funds to each other’s families.”
As part of his guilty plea, Former Council Delegate Willeto confirmed that he authorized $11,450 for family members of Harry Clark, Jack Colorado and Johnny Naize with the understanding that those delegates would, in return, authorize the same amount to his family members.
The Special Prosecutor announced that the statements made by Mr. Willeto and other cooperating delegates and witnesses assisting the Navajo Nation now make it absolutely clear how the criminal conspiracy was carried out to hide the payment of large amounts of money directly to the immediate family of Council Delegates. The Special Prosecutor stated that he hopes that the remaining Delegates will consider doing the right and honorable thing, as Council Delegate Willeto has done, and concede what they did and allow the Navajo Nation to fairly resolve the charges pending against the remaining defendants.
Finally, on Friday, July 18, at 9:30 a.m., the Window Rock District Court will hear oral arguments on the Special Prosecutor’s Motion to Join into a single trial all of the complaints filed against Council Delegates Johnny Naize and David Tom, as well as against former Council Delegates Ernest Yazzie, George Arthur and Leonard Teller. The Special Prosecutor has argued that trying all of these complaints in a single trial is recommended by Navajo Nation Supreme Court precedent and will save time and money for the Court and limit any inconvenience for the witnesses. It is much easier for witnesses to testify at a single, rather than multiple trials. A joint trial also allows each defendant to have a jury trial while at the same time requiring fewer jurors to decide these cases. Such a procedure also has the benefit of reducing expenses for the Court.
The Special Prosecutor has proposed joining defendants into the following groups for trial:
Lawrence T. Morgan
Young Jeff Tom, Sr.
Harry H. Clark