By Noel Lyn Smith -FARMINGTON Delegate Mel R. Begay — who was convicted last week of misusing money in a tribal fund intended to help members in distress — will remain on the Navajo Nation Council until the process for his removal is addressed by the Navajo Election Administration.
Begay’s service as the delegate for the Bahastl’ah, Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti and Tohatchi chapters has come into question after a jury found him guilty Wednesday of 10 counts of giving more than $30,000 from the tribe’s financial assistance program to relatives.
He is the only current delegate convicted of charges filed by the Navajo Nation Special Prosecutor. All but one of the others reached plea agreements and the remaining case is still proceeding through the court system. Since 2013, the special prosecutor has charged 17 current and former delegates and former employees for misusing $840,009 from the discretionary fund.
Jared Touchin, spokesman for the Speaker’s Office, said in an email on Friday that Begay remains a member of the council for the time being.
“The matter is currently in the hands of the Navajo Election Administration, in accordance with provisions outlined in the Navajo Election Code,” Touchin said.
In 2014, the council amended the Navajo Election Code to clarify the qualifications for elected officials and the removal of officials, according to a press release from the Office of the Speaker issued Thursday.
Edison Wauneka, executive director of the Navajo Election Administration, said the removal process cannot start until the office receives a copy of the written order from the Window Rock District Court.
The office is monitoring whether Begay files an appeal to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court, which would delay the process, Wauneka said.