Flagstaff, Ariz. • The leader of the Navajo Nation's legislative branch predicts he will be exonerated in a case alleging misuse of tribal discretionary funds intended for Navajos in need and said he will not step down while the case winds through court.
Tribal Council Speaker Johnny Naize faces 11 counts of bribery and conspiracy. Criminal complaints filed earlier this month say Naize's family members got $36,550 in discretionary funding in exchange for his providing $36,900 to family of current and former council delegates.
Naize said Wednesday he thinks he will be cleared when the case is resolved.
"The Navajo people whose requests for financial assistance I recommended demonstrated a need for help," Naize said. "As a Navajo leader, I did not turn my back on them. All of my recommendations were subject to a review and approval process."
Naize approved funding for educational expenses, auto repairs, trips, traditional ceremonies, livestock feed and rent, court documents show. Prosecutors say Naize's wife, stepchildren, siblings, niece and son, for example, received money for similar expenses.
Naize isn't the only one facing charges as a result of the investigation into discretionary spending by a team of special prosecutors. About 20 others have been charged criminally or accused of ethics violations. About the same number have been cleared in the probe, including one person listed in court documents as having provided $2,400 to Naize's family members.
Naize is serving his second consecutive term as speaker. He said he'll devote his time to "accomplishing the work of the Navajo Nation with the dignity and care that [its] citizens deserve."
The Navajo Nation covers more than 27,000 square miles in northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah and northwestern New Mexico.
The Associated Press