Lynda Lovejoy's Political Rival Pleads Not Guilty To Misdemeanor Charges
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – Navajo Nation Vice President Ben Shelly was arraigned Thursday in Window Rock District Court and pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of fraud, conspiracy and theft stemming from improper use of discretionary funds.
Shelly, a former Navajo Nation Council delegate who is running against Lynda Lovejoy for Navajo Nation president, was one of 14 individuals scheduled for arraignment. Shelly's running mate, Delegate Rex Lee Jim, reportedly is on the list of delegates to be served with a criminal summons.
Though a press release issued Wednesday by Navajo Nation Attorney General Louis Denetsosie said delegates could call the Office of the Chief Prosecutor to find out whether a complaint had been filed against them by the special prosecutor, and if so, that they could pick up their complaint and summons before 5 p.m. Friday, that was not the case Thursday morning.
Some delegates were served between 8 and 9 a.m., while attending their caucus meetings at Quality Inn. Shortly after 10 a.m., Navajo Nation Police entered the South Conference Room carrying clipboards, and as instructed, served the remaining delegates with criminal summons notifying them that they were being arraigned in district court at 11 a.m. Some were served with additional complaints upon their arrival.
Council convened and immediately went into executive session. Police returned around lunchtime and stood outside the north entrance waiting to serve additional summons.
When court reconvened after lunch, delegates David Rico and Peterson Yazzie pleaded not guilty during arraignment before Judge Carol K. Perry. Both men face charges of theft, conspiracy, fraud and forgery.
Other delegates had their arraignments continued. Among them were: Tim Goodluck, Hope MacDonald-LoneTree, Harry Claw, David Tom, Leonard Teller, Ervin Keeswood Sr., Cecil Eriacho, Harry H. Clark, Raymond Berchman, Amos Johnson, and Nelson Gorman.
Keeswood told the judge that the Navajo Nation Council was in session and that Title 2 commanded that they be in the Council Chamber. “We're in contempt there right now,” he said. Council met until around 6:30 p.m. Thursday, then went into executive session again. It is expected to complete the two remaining agenda items Friday morning.
A number of delegates questioned the rush to serve criminal complaints just days away from the General Election. Rumors have been circulating for weeks that delegates were either about to be arrested or subpoenaed over investigation into use of the discretionary funds.
“It's just all political and the timing is great in terms of the upcoming election,” Johnson said.
Albuquerque attorney James W. Zion, former Solicitor of the Courts of the Navajo Nation, said Thursday evening that it is not standard procedure to serve summons a few minutes before an arraignment. “What I have seen is that summons will be served and usually they can have a couple weeks to appear. Precisely why they are doing it this way I don't know.
“I think they wanted to get everybody taken care of and just simply get them in, get pleas and get them moving. The clock is going to start ticking now. They've got speedy trial rights that apply, then the clock starts ticking the minute they appear in court and give their plea,” he said.
Though a comprehensive list of individuals being served criminal complaints is not yet available, the district court has scheduled additional arraignments Monday for Harry Williams, Orlanda Smith-Hodge, Andy Ayze, Jack Colorado, Leonard Chee, Lena Manheimer, Young Jeff Tom, Tom Lapahe, and Joe M. Lee.
Arraignments scheduled Oct. 27 include Jerry Bodie, Roscoe Smith, Tommy Tsosie, Bobby Robbins, Herman Morris and Lawrence Platero. Arraignments also are set Nov. 1 for Leonard Teller, Evelyn Acothley and Herman Daniels; on Nov. 3 for Larry Noble and Lorenzo Bedonie; and Nov. 8 for Danny Simpson and Kee Allen Begay.
More complaints are expected to be filed, including some against individuals who are not part of Council.
“This news will compromise the people’s confidence in its government; thus, it is incumbent on us as officials of the Legislative Branch to cooperate to the fullest extent of the law so that due process can take its course,” Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan stated in a press release.
“To this end, the Legislative Branch to the fullest extent of its abilities will work cooperatively with the proper authorities in the interest of upholding the public’s trust in their government.”
Considering the allegations are of a criminal nature and served on an individual basis, the Legislative Branch, as this point, cannot comment further on the nature of the allegations, so as to not infringe on the rights of each person served, the release stated.
Discretionary funds are appropriated to many Navajo citizens who request for financial assistance through documentation to meet hardships such as student education, funeral expenses, emergency funding or assisting individuals on fixed income.
According to the Associated Press, court documents allege that Shelly conspired with six others to benefit himself, his wife, grandchildren and a sister, in 2005 and 2006. At least $500 of the $8,850 Shelly is alleged to have received was from five council members who helped him with burial expenses when his mother died in 2006. Shelly's daughter also received a payment for educational expenses.
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