A jury on Friday found Frank Talker guilty on three federal charges of bribery, conspiracy and money laundering in a case involving top Navajo Nation officials.
Talker, who prosecutors said posed a flight risk, pleaded with U.S. District Judge Dee Benson to allow him to await sentencing on the Navajo reservation rather than in federal custody."I live within the four sacred mountains of the Navajo reservation . . . . That is where my umbilical cord is buried," Talker said, his voice shaking. "My clan father is here. He will ensure that I return."
Benson agreed to release Talker to the custody of Elmer Milford, a high-level Navajo Nation official and an elder in Talker's Salt Clan, on the condition that either Milford or the Navajo Nation post $10,000 bond. Until then, Talker was to be held in Salt Lake County Jail.
Benson admonished Talker for refusing to take responsibility for his actions and for approaching a prosecution witness during the trial. Saying he feared he was acting against his better judgment in not detaining Talker, Benson added, "You took a bribe. That is not the end of the world. You're making it the end of the world with your actions."
Talker, 40, was to be sentenced Oct. 28, in U.S. District Court. Prosecutors said federal sentencing guidelines indicate he could serve five years in prison.
Talker was indicted April 7, along with former tribal community development director Larry Duncan and former Navajo Nation interim President Leonard Haskie on charges they misapplied Navajo funds in a kickback scheme.
Duncan pleaded guilty and testified against Talker. Haskie, who was running for the tribal presidency against incumbent President Peterson Zah, faces an Oct. 25 trial in Phoenix.
Talker, owner of Indian Affiliates, a Salt Lake architectural engineering firm, was convicted of plotting to have the tribe award his firm $40,300. That sum was the remainder of a $195,000 contract Talker was awarded to design the Tuba City Adult Detention Center, which has never been built.
During the three-day trial, Duncan testified he resisted Talker's proposal because the jail project had not been completed but said he relented when Talker offered him a kickback.
Duncan, who had worked for the tribe since the administration of deposed President Peter MacDonald, said he took the kickback because he was likely to lose his Navajo Nation job after Zah took office in 1991.
After Duncan paid him, Talker wrote a $13,000 check to unin-dicted co-conspirator Kenneth Dozier. Dozier wrote Duncan three separate checks totaling $13,000 with notations on them indicating they were for public relations services.
Duncan never performed such services, however. "I received a bribe," he said.
But Talker claimed the $13,000 he paid Dozier was for consultant fees. Dozier, Talker testified Thursday, had helped him resurrect business for Utah Navajo Industries when Talker was the for-profit corporation's president.
UNI operated under the auspices of the Utah Navajo Development Council, an entity that governed the distribution of oil and gas royalties derived from Utah Navajo lands. Dozier had told Talker he could "turn around" Dine Lumber, a UNI subsidiary. The UNI board wanted Dozier to act as a consultant to help Dine Lumber get contracts, Talker said.
Talker said that when Dozier asked for a $13,000 consultant fee, he paid it for services rendered and never considered it a kickback or a bribe.
In closing arguments Friday, Talker's attorney, Michael Adkins, said his client was "a businessman who wanted his money up front because he'd had trouble collecting his bills from the tribe."
But prosecutor Fred Petti, an assistant U.S. attorney from Arizona, countered that Talker was little more than a scam artist who enlisted the help of a Navajo Nation official and another man to take the tribe for $40,000.