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Updated Jan 8, 2014 - 1:00 am

Navajo lawmaker seeks removal of council speaker

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A Navajo lawmaker submitted a proposal Tuesday that
would remove the speaker of the Tribal Council, who is facing criminal charges
in an investigation into the misuse of public funds.

Alton Joe Shepherd said Speaker Johnny Naize’s leadership has come into
question since being charged last year with bribery and conspiracy.

Criminal complaints filed in tribal court allege that Naize and other current
and former tribal lawmakers engaged in a scheme to divert money intended for
Navajos in need.

Naize said he’s done nothing wrong and predicts he’ll be cleared of all

Shepherd’s measure to remove Naize as the head of the legislative branch
requires a two-thirds vote of the 24-member council. It would not remove Naize
as a Tribal Council delegate representing parts of Arizona.

“The people have become more concerned about it,” Shepherd told The
Associated Press. “At least now we can certainly have that discussion among the
council and on behalf of the people.”

Naize has said he’ll be exonerated on 10 counts of bribery and one count of
conspiracy. He is scheduled to be arraigned in March and says he won’t step down
while the case makes its way through court. His term ends in January 2015.

On Tuesday, he said in a statement that he was “disappointed and surprised”
with Shepherd’s proposal.

“As a former law enforcement officer, Mr. Shepherd should have recognized and
upheld the principle of ‘due process’ and the right of being presumed ‘innocent
until proven guilty,'” Naize said.

Prosecutors said Naize conspired with several other current and former council
delegates to divert more than $73,000 from the discretionary spending fund
intended for student financial aid, people facing extreme hardship, assistance
for elderly Navajo and other uses. They said Naize’s family received $36,550 in
exchange for his providing $36,900 to members of other families.

The special prosecutors from the Rothstein Law Firm took over the investigation
into discretionary spending in 2011 after a civil complaint alleged that dozens
of Navajo officials defrauded the tribal government in the use or management of
$36 million.

About 20 people have been charged criminally or with ethics violations. About
the same number has been cleared of wrongdoing.

Shepherd’s legislation was submitted a day after residents in Shiprock, N.M.,
approved a resolution asking the tribe’s attorney general to weigh in on whether
officials charged with a crime should remain in office. The resolution states
that Navajo people require their leaders, who are held to higher standards of
integrity, to obey tribal laws.

Shiprock President Duane “Chili” Yazzie said he’s not aware of any tribal law
that addresses tribal employees whose criminal cases have not been resolved.

“It just seems, for the lack of a better word, awkward, that you have people
charged with such crimes and they’re sitting there with fiduciary duty over
millions of dollars,” Yazzie said. “If these delegates have a sense of honor,
they could recuse themselves from council.”

Navajo Attorney General Harrison Tsosie said Tuesday that allegations of tribal
lawmakers engaged in criminal activity may create an appearance of impropriety.
But Tsosie said his office would have to examine the criminal complaints before
determining whether the allegations are severe enough to result in the lawmakers
leaving office on their own volition.

The earliest Shepherd’s legislation could go up for a vote before the full
council is at the winter session, scheduled for the last week of January, unless
a special session is approved beforehand.

“The people are entitled to complete confidence in the loyalty and integrity
of their government,” Shepherd said. “The people need to know how their leader
stands on these principles.”


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