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Navajo Nation Lawmaker Found Guilty

A Navajo Nation lawmaker has been convicted in a rare jury trial of funneling nearly $34,000 to his children from a tribal discretionary fund meant for Navajos facing extreme financial hardship.

Three men and three women spent less than three hours deliberating Wednesday in Window Rock before finding Mel Begay guilty on 10 criminal counts. He faces the loss of his legislative seat, jail time and fines.

Begay’s attorney said late Wednesday that he doesn’t believe Begay got a fair trial and will appeal the conviction to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court after the May 17 sentencing.

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Begay’s trial was the first of two in a yearslong investigation of lawmakers’ spending from the now-defunct discretionary fund. About two dozen other current and former lawmakers have resolved their criminal or ethics cases through plea agreements with prosecutors.

Prosecutors outlined a series of requests from Begay’s children to jurors during the trial that started last week, including $1,800 in three payments for a band trip that largely was paid for by his daughter’s school and summer tuition that didn’t exist. They said Begay and his children never disclosed their relationship.

Tribal law prohibits nepotism, and prosecutors say Begay attested to following the laws when he approved the requests.