Navajo Nation
A sign on the Navajo Nation urging residents of the largest reservation in the United States to stay home to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Photo courtesy Navajo Nation Council
Former Navajo Nation official accused of COVID-19 fraud
Thursday, September 30, 2021
Indianz.Com

Pearline Kirk, the former controller for the Navajo Nation, is accused of using her position to defraud the tribe out of $3 million in COVID-19 funds.

According to the Navajo Nation Department of Justice, Kirk hired a company to provide COVID-19 testing for the Navajo Nation Office of the Controller. She “falsified and misrepresented relevant facts” about the company in order for the firm to secure the $3 million in tribal funds, a news release stated.

“Ms. Kirk avoided having the company reviewed by any Navajo Health officials, as required by Navajo law, and avoided health officials after they raised concerns about the testing practices,” the Navajo Nation Office of the Attorney General said in the release on Wednesday. “Ms. Kirk’s actions allowed an unaccredited COVID-19 testing contractor to conduct COVID-19 testing and other related services for the Nation, jeopardizing the health, safety, and privacy of the Navajo people and wasting approximately $3 million in the process.”

“The Chief Executive of the company used the Nation’s payments to fund an extravagant and luxurious lifestyle,” the office alleges of the firm that received the money.

Navajo Nation Department of Justice News Release: Former Navajo Nation Controller charged with Abuse of Office and Falsification [PDF]

Allegations against Kirk first came to light in early May. The Navajo Nation Council, which serves as the legislative branch of the Navajo Nation, spent 12 hours over two days hearing about “irregularities” with a COVID-19 testing contract.

“With the American Rescue Plan Act Funds coming, we need to make sure we perform our due diligence in ensuring the people’s money is spent in an ethical manner from the top to the bottom,” Navajo Nation Council Speaker Seth Damon said in a news release on May 19. “It is unfortunate that we have to make these hard decisions, but the people’s safety is our number one priority.”

According to the council, the $3 million contract was awarded to a company called Agile Technologies. The firm was issued a cease-and-desist by Navajo Nation Attorney General Doreen McPaul after an investigation revealed irregularities with COVID-19 testing and reporting on the reservation, which at one point suffered from the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the United States.

The $3 million came from the tribe’s share of funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, a federal law also known as the CARES Act, according to a May 18 news release from the council.

The council ended up voting 13 to 10 on May 19 to remove Kirk from her position as controller. She had been confirmed to her post back in February 2017, having been appointed by former president Russell Begaye. His vice president at the time, Jonathan Nez, now serves as president of the tribe.

The criminal complaints against Kirk were filed under seal at around the same time the council was looking to Kirk’s activities. The charges were recently unsealed in tribal court, McPaul’s office said.

Elizabeth Begay, who previously served as auditor general for the tribe, is now serving as controller.

Under the CARES Act, which became law in March 2020, the Navajo Nation received over $714 million in direct funding, according to a spreadsheet compiled by Indianz.Com. The tribe so far has received more than $1.7 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act, which became law in March 2021, tribal leaders reported.