Published April 29, 2018
WINDOW ROCK – Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch announced on Friday that former Bahastlˊah Chapter Community Service Coordinator, Ronda Leonard, has pleaded guilty to 32 counts of forgery relating to a long running scheme where she abused her position to divert Chapter funds for her own personal use.
“This case was yet another example of a white collar financial crime against the Navajo Nation by a Chapter Official entrusted with responsibility of funds meant to benefit the Navajo People,” said Attorney General Ethel Branch. “In the past, too many of these cases went unprosecuted. But that time has passed. The Nation and all Navajo People were the victims of these crimes and we will continue to prosecute any tribal official who tries to enrich themselves by stealing tribal funds,” continued Branch.
To further protect the Nation from white collar crimes, Attorney General Branch has formed the Navajo Nation Public Corruption Taskforce and the Office of the Controller recently launched the Navajo Nation Fraud Hotline. The Fraud Hotline accepts tips and complaints from all sources about potential waste, fraud, and abuse of Navajo Nation programs. Professional staff members are standing by to review information provided by phone to 1-844-747-2767 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the Community Service Coordinator, Defendant Leonard had authority to sign checks for legitimate Chapter expenses, however, under Navajo Nation policies two signatures were required. So Defendant Leonard would sign her name and then forge the signature of the Chapter Vice President on checks made out to herself or her common law husband. She then also manipulated the Chapter’s financial software and restricted other Chapter employees from accessing the records to try to conceal her theft. In total, Defendant Leonard pled guilty to illegally directing a total of 32 checks to herself or her common law husband for a total of $14,203.11.
These funds came from the Navajo Nation to be administered by the Chapter and should have gone to serve the people of the Bahastlˊah Chapter for the operation and maintenance of the Chapter House, burial assistance, grazing operations, youth funds, Chapter stipend fund, scholarship funds, the Veteran’s Fund, Emergency Fund, and other legitimate Chapter expenses. Defendant Leonard will be sentenced on July 24, 2018 following the completion of a presentence report. The investigation preceding the plea agreement was conducted by the Navajo Nation Office of the Auditor General and the Navajo Nation White Collar Crime Unit.