Naize says he intends to “step up” after calls to step down made

Story and Photo By Marley Shebala

Navajo Nation Speaker Johnny Naize stated that he will “step up” and not step down as speaker on Jan. 6.

Naize’s late night statement was in response to proposed legislation for his removal as speaker that Council Delegate Alton Shepherd is sponsoring. Naize would continue serving as a Council delegate.

 Shepherd stated in a press release the morning of Jan. 6 that Navajo law mandates that the speaker be a member of the Council in good standing but Naize is facing 11 criminal charges of alleged misuse of public funds that the Navajo Nation Special Prosecutors filed against him on Dec. 3, 2013.

As speaker, Naize is the Navajo Nation Legislative Branch chief and he presides over the Council and the Council’s Naabiki’yati’ Committee, which is the top standing committee.

Naize added, “I firmly believe that in time of adversity, a leader should step up and not back down to the challenges brought forth by the politics of others.”

But according to the 11 criminal complaints against Naize, the charges are not a political challenge.

The conspiracy and bribery charges against Naize stem from an investigation by the Special Prosecutors that started in July 2011 of the alleged misuse of millions of dollars by tribally elected officials from a financial emergency assistance fund or discretionary fund created and administered by the Council.

The emergency assistance fund was specifically for those individuals with the most need, such as elders needing wood during the winter, students requiring educational supplies, veterans experiencing financial hardship and families needing burial assistance.

Naize’s 11 criminal charges involve allegations of misuse of about $37,000 in slush funds and a “You scratch my back and I will scratch your back” scheme that involved eight former and current Council delegates, including former Speaker Lawrence Morgan.

According to the Special Prosecutors, the 20th and 21st Councils dumped about $32 million in public money into their slush fund during each of their four-year terms, which were between 2003 and 2011. The current Council is the 22nd.

Naize’s criminal complaint allege that he, Morgan, current Delegate David Tom and former Delegates Lena Manheimer, Orlinda Smith-Hodge, George Arthur, Elmer Milford, Andy Ayze and Leonard Teller allegedly conspired to bribe each other by agreeing to approve discretionary funds for each other’s family members, which kept them in compliance with tribal laws that made it illegal for elected officials to directly approve financial assistance for their family members.

The Special Prosecutors also filed criminal charges of conspiracy and bribery against Morgan, Manheimer and Arthur on Dec. 3. The three former Delegates each face one count of conspiracy and 6 counts of bribery.

A total of about $186,000 in slush funds was allegedly misused by Naize, Morgan, Manheimer and Arthur in what the Special Prosecutors described as a quid-pro-quo or favor for a favor arrangement.

According to Naize’s press release, he believes that he will be “exonerated and my name will be cleared. With that in mind and as I have previously stated, I will continue to devote my best efforts to accomplishing the work of the Navajo Nation with the dignity and care that Dine’ citizens deserve.”

The complaints against Morgan, Manheimer and Arthur also named other former Delegates that also were involved in their alleged conspiracy to bribe each with tribal discretionary funds. The other former Delegates are Hoskie Kee, Young Jeff Tom Sr., Ernest D. Yazzie, Norman John II, Ervin Keeswood, Willie Begay, Jack Colorado, and Edward Jim Sr.

In Shepherd’s press release about his legislation to remove Naize, Shepherd urged chapters and individuals to comment on his legislation, which is number 0003-14, as soon as it is electronically posted on the Navajo Nation Council website.

At 1 am on Jan. 8, 2014, legislation 003-14 had not been posted.

On Jan. 6, the Shiprock, NM, Chapter voted 85 in favor, 0 opposed for Navajo Nation Attorney General Harrison Tsosie to issue a legal opinion on whether the Council delegates who are formally charged with crimes against the Navajo Nation should remain active on the Council.

During the debate over the Shiprock chapter resolution, a majority of the speakers were sharply critical of Naize for not resigning as speaker after he was criminally charged.

The arraignment of Naize, Morgan, Manheimer and Arthur is at 9 a.m. on March 11 and 12 in the Navajo Nation Window Rock, Ariz., District Court.