Navajo slush fund case awaits new prosecutor

By Felicia Fonseca
Flagstaff, Arizona (AP) October 2011

A civil case alleging that dozens of Navajo officials used tribal money as personal slush funds or failed to regulate the money won’t move forward for at least a month to allow for the appointment of a new prosecutor and to get that person up to speed.

Alan Balaran spent more than a year investigating discretionary spending within the tribal government and allegations of illegal and unethical conduct by tribal employees, some of whom have left office. The expiration of his contract Friday means there is no prosecutor in the case, though tribal justice officials said one ideally would be named this week.

Tribal District Court Judge Carol Perry, who is overseeing the case, issued an order late last week putting the case on hold until Nov. 7. She says defense attorneys can submit pleadings but she won’t act on them until after then.

She also ordered the tribe’s Department of Justice to secure the special prosecutor’s office until a new person is appointed and can take control of any files that Balaran had gathered. Financial documents housed in a tribal building believed to be contaminated by mold will remain there until an incident management team comes up with a plan to preserve them that must be presented to Balaran’s replacement and approved by the court, Perry said. 

Some of the 85 defendants, which include former and current Navajo lawmakers, attorneys general and the tribe’s controller, have said the civil complaint was a shoddy piece of investigative work. Tribal Council Speaker Johnny Naize, who is among the defendants, questioned Balaran’s motives and believed that the prosecutor was trying to disable the tribal government.

“We can now move forward with better confidence to resolve these vague civil suits and focus on our job of working for the Navajo people,” he said in a statement after a judicial panel decided against renewing Balaran’s contract last month.

Balaran said those charged clearly defrauded the tribe in the management and use of $36 million in discretionary funds. The money should have gone to address significant hardships, help elderly Navajos on fixed incomes or to student scholarships, he said. Balaran alleged that the defendants instead funneled it to themselves or their families or improperly condoned the spending.