Published March 17, 2016
WINDOW ROCK — Navajo Nation Council Delegate Mel Begay returns to the Window Rock District Court on Tuesday afternoon for his involvement in the slush fund case.
The decision by Mel R. Begay to give more then $33,000 to his children from the tribal financial discretionary fund may have been a violation of tribal ethics laws but was it a crime?
That’s the question posed by Begay’s attorney, Jeffrey Rasmussen, during the first day of Begay’s criminal trialWednesday in the Window Rock District Court.
Begay is still on the council, representing Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti, Tohatchi and Bahastl’a’a’. He is accused of conspiring with his children between 2006 and 2010 to defraud the tribe as well as submitting a false tribal voucher.
During his opening statement, Rasmussen pointed to the form his client had signed in approving the requests from his children in which he affirms that he followed tribal ethics laws. He then questioned why the tribe’s special prosecutors didn’t charge him with violating the tribe’s ethics laws instead of filing a criminal complaint.
“It was not criminal,” Rasmussen said.
He also pointed out that his client did not approve the request. That was done by a representative of the speaker’s office, Laura Calvin, he said.
“Why isn’t she on trial here?” Rasmussen asked.
The one thing he and Mark Lowry, who was prosecuting the case, agreed on was that the procedures used in giving out grants from the now discretionary fund were severely flawed.
More than 70 members of the council who served between 2006 and 2010 have been charged with taking money illegally and almost all have entered into plea agreements with the tribe’s special prosecutor, admitting guilt without having to risk any jail time. None of these cases have come up for sentencing yet.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
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