Tribal member's fund scrutiny leads to charges
SCHURZ, Nev. - A Walker River Paiute tribal member who questioned leader spending in an attempt to recall two council members has landed herself in a court room to face slander charges.
Patty Hicks said she simply got fed up with being ignored when her questions regarding tribal spending were brushed aside so she decided to seek the recall of council chairwoman Victoria Guzman and councilmember Marlene Begay and expose "their corruption," she wrote in a personal e-mail to a friend.
But it's that e-mail sent to garner support for the recall that has Hicks in hot water. In it, Hicks claims, tribal administrators cater to family and friends, "have wasted millions" in federal grant monies and have done nothing to improve economic conditions for the tribe.
Hicks goes on to name and then criticize the tribe's Water Resource Department Director Elveda Martinez for her handling of grant money earmarked to rebuild Weber Dam. The dam was completed in 1937 and stores water for irrigating reservation lands. The dam sits on an earthquake fault and needs to be rebuilt.
Hicks said more than $13 million in grants from the federal Safety of Dams Act have been awarded to the tribe but only half the amount remains and yet no work has been done. She wonders where the money has gone and speculates that it has been abused.
Hicks wrote in the Oct. 3 e-mail, "Every one of (Martinez's) projects have been flops ? As far as I'm concerned, she should be in prison for raping our tribe ? That's why I am personally collecting signatures to rid ourselves of these bad people."
Recall target Begay and Martinez are sisters.
Martinez filed a criminal complaint with tribal law enforcement officers in December saying that Hicks "knowingly and with malicious intent" spread false information in an attempt to ruin her reputation and expose her to "public hatred, contempt or ridicule."
Attempts to reach Martinez for comment were not returned.
According to reports, the U.S. Office of Inspector General investigated claims of mishandled funds in connection with the dam project last year and found no evidence of inappropriateness.
Hicks, a legal secretary with the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection, is defending herself in the criminal defamation case. She appeared in tribal court Jan. 9 and asked to have the charges dismissed saying her comments were made in a private note and are protected under the 1968 Indian Civil Rights Act, which includes many of the same provisions afforded individuals in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Hicks is also questioning whether the tribal court even has jurisdiction to prosecute her because the incident occurred outside reservation boundaries.
A judge is expected to rule on her motion for dismissal on Feb. 9. If sent to trial and convicted, Hicks, a 60-year-old great-grandmother could be sentenced to six months in prison and receive a $5,000 fine.
"They are trying to scare people away from the truth and make an example of me," Hicks said by phone. "I am just asking for accountability."
Meanwhile, a second effort to collect signatures and recall the two councilwomen is under way. The first was ruled invalid when 23 names were removed from petitions for what Hicks called technical reasons such as a missing middle initial. The petition fell just short of the 210 signatures needed to put the question to voters.
Hicks, who has started the Coalition for an Honest Tribal Government, also alleges that the tribe's Election Ordinance is unclear and the voting system is flawed making it difficult for some to register or obtain absentee ballots.
Among the violations Hicks cites in a pamphlet being circulated with the new recall petition is that absentee ballots are being mailed directly to election committee members instead of the tribal office where they can be secured until they're counted.
Hicks said the ordeal has been difficult but that some tribal members have phoned or written her to show their support for what she is doing and she vows to continue to fight. Hicks said all she wants is a full disclosure of tribal finances and for an outside audit to be conducted.
"That's all I'm asking for," she said.