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Navajo lawmaker settles discretionary fund case

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- A Navajo Nation lawmaker has reached a settlement with prosecutors in a case alleging misuse of tribal funds.

Delegate Edmund Yazzie made the announcement Wednesday while temporarily presiding over the Tribal Council's winter session. A law firm investigating the council's use of discretionary funds confirmed the announcement with a letter sent to Yazzie a day earlier, which said all claims or potential claims against him have been settled.

The terms of the settlement are confidential, said Scott Hanson, a spokesman for the Rothstein Law Firm. Yazzie did not immediately return messages seeking comment on details of the settlement.

Allegations that some former and current tribal council delegates engaged in a scheme to enrich their families with tribal funds intended for Navajos in need prompted intense discussions over two days about the investigation and the impacts on the Tribal Council.

Legislation to remove Speaker Johnny Naize, who is facing bribery and conspiracy charges, failed to garner enough votes for passage Tuesday. Emotions remained unsettled Wednesday as the council debated a bill to appoint someone to complete Naize's term.

Yazzie commented about his own case after Delegate Leonard Tsosie referenced it amid hours of heated debate. Yazzie ruled to have the legislation removed from the agenda as moot and broke a tie vote by the council on Tsosie's challenge of the ruling.

"We've got to continue to move forward because right now we are stabbing each other in the back, saying 'you, you, you,'" Yazzie said at one point.

Tsosie called for a recess to have the Navajo Nation Department of Justice weigh in on a request from two Navajo communities on whether delegates facing criminal charges should be removed from office.

"When good governance is being called for, it's never too late," he said.

Deputy Attorney General Dana Bobroff said Navajo law doesn't allow for automatic removal of delegates charged but not convicted of crimes and tribal court opinions do not mandate it. Bobroff said the Tribal Council can place a delegate on administrative leave for a serious breach of fiduciary duty to the Navajo people, though tribal code doesn't define what constitutes a breach. Navajo voters also can recall delegates through a special election.

About 20 former and current tribal officials face criminal or ethics charges in the discretionary-fund investigation. Roughly the same number has been cleared of wrongdoing.

Former council Delegate Hoskie Kee pleaded not guilty this week to bribery and conspiracy charges. He was arrested at his home in Haystack, N.M., on Monday after failing to appear in court, prosecutors said.

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