Former Navajo Nation controller brought up on new charges
Complaint alleges the official misled the government to spend CARES Act funding with a confidant’s company
Former Navajo Nation Controller Pearline Kirk at a Dec. 3 news conference with her attorneys, David Jordan from Gallup (left) and Justin Jones from Farmington. (Screenshot from the news conference, which happened via Zoom).
New criminal complaints have been filed by Navajo Nation against ousted Controller Pearline Kirk.
This new complaint comes nearly a week after the Navajo Nation voluntarily dismissed two cases against Kirk that would’ve gone to a jury trial this month, but it was canceled.
The new complaints allege that Kirk committed violations of Title 17 of the Navajo Nation Code, which include obtaining a signature by deception, paying or receiving government funds for services not rendered, and falsification, according to the Navajo Department Of Justice.
Kirk’s claims misled and deceived officials into approving a contract for over $3 million to hire a COVID-19 testing company, Agile Technologies LLC, to serve the 110 employees at the Office of Controller, according to the complaint. That’s about $27,000 per person to be served.
The previous allegations
Navajo Department of Justice didn’t explain why officials voluntarily dismissed the two cases that were scheduled to go to trial. The cases were unsealed back in September, and in them, the Navajo Nation accused Kirk of committing unsworn falsification and abuse of office.
When COVID-19 hit the Navajo Nation in March 2020, it would be a few months before the tribe would receive about $714 million in CARES Act funding from the federal government to mitigate and combat COVID-19. This money was managed by the Office of the Controller.
Navajo Department of Justice states: Kirk’s longtime mentor and confidant recommended an unqualified company that was paid around $3 million in Navajo Nation funds that would have never been spent but for her actions. This contract was created despite the Nation already having legitimate and approved testing available through its Department of Health. Kirk avoided having this additional testing reviewed by any Navajo Health officials, as required by Navajo law, and again misled and deceived health officials when they raised concerns about the testing.
“We know who this contract went to within the Office of the Controller,” said Attorney General Doreen McPaul in a May meeting on the matter. “We know from the proposal that was directed to the Office of Controller, that the representations that were made within the proposals are false. The representation to advance this as a sole-source contract is false. We know those representations made to my office, to the business regulatory office, to the President’s Office, were inaccurate at best. That’s what the problem was with the contract.”
Navajo Nation controller accused of fraud in COVID-testing contract
Council Delegate Carl Slater, a member of the Health, Education and Human Services Committee, explained in a May Facebook Live video why the contract setup was misleading. In order to do an emergency, sole-source contract, “the controller had to say this is the only company in the world that could provide this type of testing to the Navajo Nation.” But, he added, a quick Google search for antibody or antigen testing reveals there are scores of other companies in the U.S. that can do this work.
“So now we probably have millionaires in Scottsdale and Chicago because of Navajo Nation CARES Act funding that the controller directly administered and misrepresented to the Department of Justice and to all the other reviewers,” Slater said.
As the Navajo Nation Council debated in May whether to place Kirk on administrative leave with pay or to remove her permanently, it was reported that her salary as the controller was $225,000. That’s a position she held since 2017. They voted at that meeting to remove her completely.
Kirk’s actions allowed for the CEO of Agile Technologies LLC to use the $3 million in Navajo Nation money to fund an extravagant lifestyle that included purchasing an Aston Martin sports car, rental of a penthouse apartment, as well as luxury goods and travel, according to the Navajo Department of Justice.
Kirk’s attorneys David Jordan and Justin Jones held a news conference on Friday, Dec. 3. Jordan said he takes the new criminal complaints seriously, and the new criminal complaints have put a “sad explanation point” on a series of events that began in 2020.
“The Navajo Nation, through the attorney general, Prosecutor’s Office, and chief prosecutor and special prosecutor have accused my client of crimes,” Jordan said. “In so doing, they committed perjury. They have made false statements, and we are here to set the record straight.”
Kirk wasn’t able to give a statement at the news conference. Jordan said Kirk believes in accountability as a public official and was under a gag order and was not able to make a public statement up until the press conference.
“Even though Council Delegate Slater made a long statement on Facebook of my client, even though I’m aware a timeline was provided to the Navajo Times, my client honored and obeyed the gag order that was imposed by the judge, and we said nothing,” Jordan said. “It was incredibly painful, because she knew false statements were being made.”
He said employees of the Controller’s Office were considered essential employees and were required to work. When it came to testing for COVID-19, Indian Health Services did offer testing but results took a few days, and this was problematic.
“So you could take a test, work for five days, and then five days later find out you had COVID, and you exposed all your coworkers to the disease,” Jordan said.
He said the main concern was the employees at the Controller’s Office, and at the time, Kirk became aware of Agile Technologies, so she suggested it as a possible means of testing. The Food and Drug Administration had approved the kinds of tests Agile was conducting, he said, and they were faster than what was available at IHS.
“The staff looked into the Agile business,” Jordan said. “The decision was collectively made to go through with the contract.”
Contracts between Agile and the Navajo Nation were not signed by Kirk but rather President Jonathan Nez, Jordan pointed out. Documentation of this was provided to the reporters present at the news conference. He also said several processes and checks happened before the contract was signed, including review by the Office of the Attorney General.
“It’s not the controller’s job to sign contracts on behalf of the Navajo Nation,” Jordan said. “It’s the controller’s job to ensure there is fiscal accountability, that when monies are being encumbered by the Navajo Nation, that they follow tribal and federal laws.”
This story was updated on Thursday, Dec. 16, to reflect that Kirk’s longtime mentor recommended Agile, according to a criminal complaint from the Navajo DOJ.
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