Former Bahastl’ah Chapter Official Sentenced to Jail for Using Her Position to Steal from Navajo Nation

Published November 21, 2018

WINDOW ROCK, NAVAJO NATION —  Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch announced today that former Bahastlˊah Chapter Community Service Coordinator, Ronda Leonard, has been sentenced to ninety days in jail and to pay full restitution for forging signatures on Chapter checks to divert those funds for her own personal use.

“This defendant took advantage of a position of trust she held, and abused that position to take Navajo Nation funds for her own use.  In doing so, she deprived the Chapter’s children, veteran’s and elders from the services that money could have provided,” said Attorney General Ethel Branch.  “The Nation and all Navajo Citizens were the victims of these crimes and we are pleased to see that the lost funds will be repaid and that the defendant will actually be punished for her actions through serving jail time,” continued Branch.  Chief Prosecutor Gertrude Lee added “This case highlights why it is important to combat white collar crimes and my office will continue to seek justice and nályééh when others enrich themselves by stealing tribal funds.”

Defendant Leonard was the Community Service Coordinator for the Bahastlˊah Chapter, and as such she had authority to sign checks for legitimate Chapter expenses.  However, she abused this authority by forging the signatures of others on checks made out to herself or her common law husband.  To conceal her theft, she manipulated the Chapter’s financial software and restricted other Chapter employees from accessing records.  In total, Defendant Leonard pled guilty to 32 charges of illegally directing $14,203.11 in fraudulent checks to herself or her common law husband.  She has been ordered to repay this full amount as restitution to the Nation and will be placed on probation when she is released from jail.

While this was the defendant’s first criminal conviction, the Judge emphasized the seriousness of these crimes and that the defendant had violated the trust of the Navajo people.  The Judge noted that she had taken for herself funds that should have gone to serve the people of the Bahastlˊah Chapter, especially the youth and elders who benefit from Chapter services.  In addition to her jail time and required repayment to the Nation, the Judge ordered the defendant to write an apology to the people of the Navajo Nation that is to be published in the Navajo Times.  Ms. Leonard was taken into custody at yesterday’s hearing and will begin serving her jail term immediately.  The investigation leading to this sentence was conducted by the Navajo Nation Office of the Auditor General and the Navajo Nation White Collar Crime Unit.

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