Navajo President Ben Shelly has been cleared of fraud, conspiracy and theft charges stemming from an investigation of discretionary funding.
Crownpoint District Judge Irene Toledo in New Mexico agreed Wednesday to drop the charges against Shelly at the request of the prosecutor.
Shelly and prosecutor Alan Balaran previously agreed to settle the case and have Shelly repay all but $600 of the $8,850 he was accused of stealing from the tribal government.
Shelly had pleaded not guilty to the charges and maintains he is innocent. His attorney, Samuel Pete, said the president has committed to repaying the money through automatic payroll deductions and will help reform the rules on discretionary funding under a private agreement with Balaran.
“President Shelly felt that was the right thing and honorable thing to do,” Pete said. “He knew that the laws, rules and regulations governing discretionary funding were vague and ambiguous.”
Balaran said dismissing the charges was in the best interest of the Navajo people.
Shelly and Vice President Rex Lee Jim were among 78 former and current Tribal Council members who were charged last October with offenses including abuse of office, fraud and conspiracy. Balaran alleged that the defendants illegally received a combined $1.9 million in tribal funds.
Jim settled charges of theft and conspiracy against him before he was inaugurated last month. He is repaying $3,200 as part of a settlement agreement.
Shelly and Jim say they will work make the laws clear on discretionary spending that is intended for Navajos facing hardships, students who need money for school, burial assistance and other emergency situations. The defendants are accused of taking the money to benefit themselves and their families.
The $600 that Shelly won’t repay was used to bury his mother.
The tribe’s high court has placed a moratorium on discretionary spending until the laws are reformed.