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MACDONALD PLEADS NOT GUILTY TO CHARGES THAT HE VIOLATED ORDERS NOT TO ACT AS LEADER

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Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald has pleaded not guilty to tribal charges accusing him of violating court orders that barred him from acting as chairman after he was suspended by the Tribal Council.

MacDonald, facing seven counts of interfering with judicial process, was released on his own recognizance after he appeared Thursday before Window Rock District Judge Robert Yazzie, officials said.A July 7 pretrial conference was scheduled, said Duane Beyal, spokesman for interim Chairman Leonard Haskie.

Another official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Vice Chairman Johnny R. Thompson faced five counts of the same interference charge and also pleaded not guilty in Yazzie's court Thursday.

The court's telephones went unanswered late Thursday, and tribal prosecutors also could not be reached for comment.

Beyal said the charges filed by tribal Prosecutor Melvin Tso Scott accuse MacDonald of failing to comply with court orders stemming from a Feb. 17 decision by a Tribal Council majority placing MacDonald on administrative leave with pay. Thompson later also was placed on leave.

The council acted after U.S. Senate hearing testimony indicated MacDonald accepted kickbacks and gifts from parties doing business with the tribe.

MacDonald has denied any wrongdoing and contends the council action was illegal under tribal law. However, tribal courts have upheld the council's placement of MacDonald and Thompson on leave and its subsequent appointment of Haskie as interim chairman.

MacDonald specifically is accused of violating a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction issued by Yazzie. The orders prohibited MacDonald and numerous other tribal officials from entering tribal offices and carrying out their offices' duties. Yazzie also restrained MacDonald from using tribal airplanes and resources.

On May 24, tribal police removed approximately 60 MacDonald supporters from the tribal administration building. The occupation of the main tribal offices had forced Haskie to establish his interim office headquarters in the tribe's judicial building. Six protesters were arrested, including MacDonald's sister, Hanna Howard.

Haskie formally moved into the administration building last week after telephone service was restored. Lines had been disconnected in an attempt to force protesters from the building.

The U.S. attorney's office in Phoenix has been conducting a grand jury investigation of tribal finances under MacDonald's chairmanship, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Allen Stooks said the office was not involved in the tribal proceedings.