AG to call for special prosecutor to investigate charges against Shirley

By Jason Begay
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Nov. 12, 2009

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The attorney general has found enough information in the classified reports on President Joe Shirley Jr. to warrant hiring a special prosecutor to further investigate, according to a Department of Justice representative.

"A team of attorneys have reviewed the reports," said Henry Howe, a DOJ attorney. "We've determined that there are matters of substantive importance to the Navajo Nation to seek a special prosecutor."

Howe reported to the Navajo Nation Council Thursday morning during its single-day special session. He said Attorney General Louis Denetsosie plans to submit a petition to the Window Rock District Court requesting a special prosecutor in the next two weeks.

A three-judge panel would rule on the application, hopefully within the month, Howe said.

"Likely, the court will agree with the attorney general that a special prosecutor is warranted," Howe said.

Howe appeared before the council in place of Denetsosie, who was on travel, he said.

He did not release any details of the reports and asked the council to continue to keep details under wraps to ensure the investigations remain unbiased.

Howe's report was the first word from the attorney general's office regarding the status of the council's Oct. 26 action placing Shirley on paid administrative leave.

The council requested Denetsosie to review three confidential reports to determine if there are grounds to file criminal charges.

The reports, each prepared by outside law firms using $500,000 approved by the council in 2008, detail the dealings behind two controversial Navajo businesses, OnSat and BCDS Manufacturing Inc. Both businesses have been accused of overcharging or misspending millions of tribal dollars. 

The council has not release either report, however, according to a copy obtained by the Navajo Times, Shirley may have violated tribal ethics laws by "pressuring" programs to maintain business contacts with OnSat despite their concerns.

The attorney general has the final word over the length of Shirley's leave. His decision to seek a special prosecutor could extend the leave through the holidays depending on the reaction time of the Window Rock court.

Delegates have defended their action, saying placing Shirley on leave was in the best interest of the tribe. The leave and investigation would clear Shirley and his position of any wrongdoing, they said.

They have also stressed that the move had nothing to do with Shirley's government reform initiative, which includes reducing the council from 88 to 24 members.

However, Harry Claw (Chinle) said Shirley has continued to lobby for support of his initiatives, which is scheduled to go before the public in a Dec. 15 special election.

"He's out there campaigning for this initiative," Claw said. "This is a presidential initiative. Is he in the right or wrong?"

 Shirley has made appearances at two chapter houses during his leave, however both trips were at the request of the chapters and made in his personal vehicle, said George Hardeen, spokesman with the president's office.

Shirley also appeared before the Government Services Committee Tuesday at the committee's request to discuss the staff that provide security for the president. The committee ended up voting against a bill asking to eliminate the detail and redirect the funds to a water-hauling project near Leupp.

Howe said he did not have enough information about Shirley's actions to discuss the matter.

Claw also requested to keep the Navajo Nation Supreme Court out of the process, alluding to the high court's previous rulings in favor of holding an election for Shirley's initiatives.

"They should not be involved since they are so biased," Claw said.

Howe said the Supreme Court has nothing to do with the process of seeking a special prosecutor. The Window Rock District Courts will have authority over Denetsosie's petition, he said.

Howe's report was added to the council's agenda Thursday morning.

During the special session, the council tabled two resolutions. The first bill would have declared the tribe's opposition to any expansion of the Arizona Snowbowl on the San Francisco Peaks.

The council also tabled a bill asking to revise contracts with Peabody Coal Company.

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