- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) - A Navajo Nation Council committee has voted against legislation to remove council Speaker Johnny Naize because of pending bribery and conspiracy charges.

The committee voted twice Thursday to table the legislation sponsored by Delegate Alton Joe Shepherd. However, the legislation still advances to the council’s winter session, which starts Monday in Window Rock, the Daily Times (https://bit.ly/1faIiSl ) reported.

Shepherd said his legislation is intended to preserve “the image, the integrity that the chair brings to this council.”

Delegate Kenneth Maryboy said the council should not cave to “social or media pressure” in removing Naize.

“Who are we to judge somebody?” Maryboy said.

Naize has said he will not step down and that he did nothing wrong. He is serving his second consecutive two-year term as speaker.

Naize is scheduled to be arraigned in March on 10 counts of bribery and one of conspiracy, stemming from an investigation into lawmakers’ use of tribal slush funds.

Prosecutors allege Naize’s family received $36,550 in discretionary funding in exchange for his providing $36,900 to family members of current and former council delegates.

The discretionary funding was intended for uses such as student financial aid, people facing extreme hardship and assistance for elderly Navajo.

Delegate Lorenzo Curley said he would step aside as speaker if he faced the pending charges but didn’t want as this point to vote to remove Naize.

But if Naize does not voluntarily vacant the office, Curley said he would vote to remove him.

Delegate Katherine Benally supported Naize. “Speaker Naize from here to January of 2015,” Benally said.

The investigation into the discretionary funds began after a larger Tribal Council of 88 delegates voted in 2009 to place then-President Joe Shirley Jr. on administrative leave over allegations that he acted unethically and illegally in dealing with two companies that had operated on the reservation.

The allegations never were made public, and Shirley never was charged. A tribal judge ruled that the council acted outside its authority. The decision later upheld by the tribe’s Supreme Court came on the eve of an election that reduced the council to 24 members.

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