FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Incoming Navajo President Ben Shelly will be sworn into office today with criminal charges still hanging over his head, while a judge considers whether to dismiss them as part of a settlement agreement.
Shelly announced Monday that he and his vice president had reached settlements with a special prosecutor, in which they would repay the money they’re accused of stealing from the tribal government in exchange for having criminal charges against them dropped.
A Window Rock judge approved the settlement regarding Rex Lee Jim, but a tribal judge in another district did not issue an immediate ruling in Shelly’s case. Crownpoint, N.M., District Judge Irene Toledo instead asked for additional briefs on how the court would enforce the agreement, staff attorney Patrick Dooley said.
“There is no final decision from this court tonight,” Dooley told the Associated Press.
Shelly pleaded not guilty to theft, conspiracy and fraud charges late last year and sought to have them dismissed before he succeeds Joe Shirley Jr. as tribal president. Shelly, a 16-year lawmaker, served as Shirley’s vice president in his second term.
Shelly and 77 lawmakers were charged last October with offenses including abuse of office, fraud and theft in an investigation of the Tribal Council’s discretionary spending. Special prosecutor Alan Balaran alleged that the defendants illegally received a combined $1.9 million in tribal funds.
Shelly said that he and Jim were doing “what we believe is honorable and the right thing to do” in settling the cases before they’re sworn in as president and vice president.
A criminal complaint alleged that Shelly took $8,850 to benefit himself and his family. If Toledo approves the settlement, Shelly will repay all but $600 that he received for funeral expenses.