June 17, 2008
Judge Demands Documents From Navajo Group
By Geoffrey Fattah Deseret News
A federal judge has given the managers of a Navajo nonprofit organization 10 days to hand over financial documents to the state of Utah or face contempt.
During a hearing Monday, U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell ordered the managers of the Utah Navajo Development Council to hand over financial documents or file a sworn declaration that the documents do not exist before 10 days, or she will find them in contempt.
The ruling comes as Utah officials work to provide an accounting of how the state has managed the funds of the Navajo Oil Trust. By court order, the state must provide an accounting of how the oil- trust money has been disbursed over a number of years as part of a class-action suit filed by a group of Navajos. The Navajos say the state needs to account for an estimated $150 million, compound interest included, of trust expenditures.
One of the incidents that sparked the suit involves the council, which was given about $35 million in trust money by the state. Court documents show that the council then created a for-profit group called Utah Navajo Industries, which was supposed to invest seed money to start up businesses on reservations.
Some Utah Navajo Development Council and Utah Navajo Industries officials were convicted of embezzling trust money, and the plaintiffs claim the state is responsible for any missing funds.
In court Monday, Assistant Utah Attorney General Phil Lott said the state has already received hundreds of boxes of financial documents from the council, but there is indication that there may be more documents the state has not seen. Lott told the court the state is trying to "turn over stones" and wants to make sure the council is going to fully cooperate.
"We need them for the accounting," Campbell said, and he noted that no council official had appeared in court Monday to offer an explanation. She then gave officials 10 days to either come up with any remaining documents or submit a sworn affidavit that there are no more documents to hand over.
Lott said the state has delegated several full-time accounting employees to the task of providing the court with an accounting of trust funds. Although the state has documents dating as far back as 1955, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule exactly how far back the state's accounting will have to be.
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