Utah lawmakers will likely seek a professional to manage Navajo oil royalties until officials decide how to deal with alleged mismanagement of the state-run trust fund.

Meantime, the Navajo Nation Council will hold a series of public hearings beginning Monday to address concerns of Utah tribal members worried the tribe will take over the fund and leave them penniless.The hearings come after Utah tribal chapter leaders met with the Legislature's State and Local Affairs Interim Committee last week.

The meeting was held after an audit released last month alleged as much as $20 million in royalties funneled into the state-operated Utah Navajo Trust Fund were squandered by officials or agencies set up to improve living conditions on the impoverished reservation.

The Utah attorney general's office, the FBI and tribal authorities are investigating the audit findings. In letters to Utah Gov. Norm Bangerter and Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah has promised the tribe will prosecute any offenders.

The council is being asked by Zah to support dissolution of a 1933 congressional act designating the state of Utah as trustee. He said the Navajo Nation, headquartered in Window Rock, Ariz., should be custodian of the money.

However, Rep. Afton Bradshaw, R-Salt Lake, the interim committee's chairwoman, said not all Utah Navajos are comfortable with that proposal.

She said the committee will likely draft legislation during the upcoming general session turning management of the trust, at least for now, over to a professional trustee.

"To some extent, the federal law has our hands tied," Bradshaw said. "But I think this is one thing we could do."

Bangerter, disgusted with the reports of mismanagement, has said he will ask the state's congressional delegation to seek to repeal the 1933 act. Zah also supports that position.

"Until we can resolve the issues posed by the 1933 act, that seems the most prudent route to take," Bradshaw said. "Some of the (Utah) tribal leaders we talked to are not at all comfortable with the Navajo Nation running the trust."

The congressional act designated that 37.5 percent of royalties derived from oil taken from the rich Aneth Extension in southeastern Utah are to be funneled through the state to tribal members on the Utah portion of the reservation. Most of the Navajo Nation is located in Arizona and New Mexico.

The remaining 62.5 percent goes directly into tribal coffers, to be spent on the tribe as a whole, Bradshaw said.

She said tribal leaders representing Utah's 6,500 Navajos don't believe the tribe has lived up to that agreement.

Utah's Navajos remain the state's poorest residents. Many areas on the reservation have no running water or electricity, and unemployment runs up to 50 percent.

Zah, in a recent letter to the tribal council, said the nation should take control of the trust but that council members should assure Utah Navajos that they will continue to receive the 37.5 percent of the oil royalties guaranteed by Congress.

"I believe implementation of these two points can resolve the issue to the mutual benefit of the Navajo beneficiaries of the Trust Fund and the sovereign Navajo nation," Zah wrote.

He also said the nation needs to heal a century-old rift with the Utah Navajos. Bradshaw said that division has been widened by the lopsided distribution of oil royalties and fears the tribe will hoard the royalties if it gains control of the trust.

"Finally, we must stress to the Navajo people who live on the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation that we must unify and no longer allow the divisiveness that this federal law has created," Zah said.

To begin this process, the council will meet with Utah Navajos Monday in Monument Valley and Friday in Montezuma Creek. The council will then meet in special session in Window Rock on Dec. 19, Bradshaw said.

The interim committee members were invited, but Bradshaw said they weren't given adequate time to make the trip.