Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald, accused of taking kickbacks in tribe transactions, said his observance of Indian tradition in accepting "gifts" was minor compared to the excesses of Nancy Reagan and Washington politicians.
In a 25-minute hookup with tribal radio station KTNN Wednesday, Peter MacDonald lashed out at former first lady Nancy Reagan, Congress in general and members of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, which is investigating allegations of bribery in his administration."I don't need designer dresses loaned to me like Nancy Reagan. Nobody is offering me $5,000 a night for speaking engagements," MacDonald told radio listeners during a visit to Crownpoint, N.M., for a shopping center dedication.
He declined to answer reporters' questions later.
MacDonald was acquitted in 1977 of federal fraud and income-tax-evasion charges. According to testimony before the Senate committee, the 60-year-old chairman of the nation's largest tribe has profited from kickbacks in a variety of official Navajo transactions, including the $33.4 million purchase of the Big Boquillas Ranch.
MacDonald said the Senate probe was racist and aimed at undermining tribal sovereignty.
"They are the gentlemen who are investigating my ethics of serving without one scrap of evidence that the favors I have received somehow mean I have sold out the tribe," he said. "This is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong."
"Yes, I have accepted gifts, but that is not a crime," he said.
McDonald has been invited to testify but has not appeared before the committee, which began its inquiry last year after The Arizona Republic published articles alleging waste and corruption on reservations and in federal Indian programs.
The investigation threatened tribal sovereignty because the government was near to denying Navajos the right to enter into binding contracts, MacDonald said.
An estimated 170,000 of the nation's 200,000 Navajos live on the 25,000-square-mile reservation that covers much of northeastern Arizona and sprawls into northwestern New Mexico and southeastern Utah.
Bryon T. "Bud" Brown, a Phoenix real estate broker, has testified under a grant of immunity that he paid MacDonald $25,000 to amortize a bank loan, gave him $50,000 in cash and made a $50,000 BMW automobile available as his share of the $7.2 million profit realized by Brown's friend on the sale of the Big Boquillas.
Brown had arranged for businessman Tom Tracy to buy the ranch from Tenneco West Inc. for $26.2 million. A few hours later, the tribe paid $33.4 million for the 491,000-acre spread in western Arizona.
The account was corroborated before the committee by McDonald's son, Peter McDonald Jr., also testifying under immunity.
MacDonald told listeners too much emphasis had been placed on how the land was acquired, ignoring that the land could generate a profit.