Tag Archives: District Court Judge Crol Perry

9/24/2011 Gallup Independent: Court halts NN mold cleanup

9/24/2011 Gallup Independent: Court halts NN mold cleanup  By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: WINDOW ROCK – At the request of Special Prosecutor Alan Balaran, District Court Judge Carol Perry issued a temporary restraining order Friday afternoon temporarily halting cleanup of black mold at Administration Building One until after a hearing Monday. Balaran filed a motion for a temporary restraining order, application for preliminary injunction and appointment of a special master at 1 p.m. Friday. He alleged that the building, which is the principal storehouse for the Navajo Nation’s financial documents, has been declared an environmental hazard.

“Locks have been replaced on all the doors and the financial records of the people are being removed and are slated to be destroyed,” he said.

No environmental hazards have been circulated confirming the ostensibly deadly mold that is supposedly infecting the building; no federal or state organizations have verified any findings or have generated any reports which would shed light on the gravity of the situation and propose realistic solutions, he said.

In addition, the effort to destroy all financial documents is spearheaded by Patrick Sandoval, former chief of staff to former Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., who is named in a civil complaint filed by the special prosecutor alleging breach of fiduciary duty during his presidency. Also named are more than 80 current and former Navajo Nation officials.

“Mr. Sandoval’s intimate involvement is of particular concern in light of the fact that he was named by three law firms as being a central player in the alleged criminal actions involving the Nation and OnSat, the E-Rate Program and BCDS,” Balaran said. “The timing of the proposed destruction appears particularly coincidental – coming on the heels of the Special Prosecutor’s imminent departure.”

Destruction of the records would make it virtually impossible for a new special prosecutor to pinpoint those involved in any of the alleged events cited in the special prosecutor’s complaints. The loss of records also would place the new special prosecutor “in the untenable position of being unable to subpoena any records with the assurance that he or she had received all that was available only weeks earlier,” he said.

The Navajo Nation’s governmental staff has not been apprised of how the Nation intends to inventory, store, and scan all records removed from the Administration Building, and documents received to date indicate there is no plan, according to Balaran.

“Indeed, the one outside company with whom the Nation has contracted to assist with the assessment of environmental contamination, ‘Environmental Consultant, Inc.’ is not licensed to do business in either New Mexico or Arizona.”

Laura Johnson, a manager with the Office of the Controller, stated in an affidavit that around Aug. 31, the entire staff in the Administration Building were informed that the Nation intended to close the building and clean it, beginning Sept. 2 due to “mold.”

On Sept. 6, financial personnel were allowed to return to work. “It was noted some of the staff items were moved out of its usual area,” she stated.

On Sept. 8, staff were told the building still had a mold issue and would be closed again beginning Sept. 9, with no definite date of reopening. “We were advised to take what we could since we may not be allowed back in for weeks,” Johnson said.

As of Sept. 20, financial personnel were informed that the building would be closed for six months to a year. “They were further informed that all documents in the building were contaminated and would be scanned and destroyed. All of the door locks were changed,” she said, adding that Sandoval was spearheading the decontamination effort.

The Office of the Controller maintains hundreds of thousands if not millions of documents supporting the Nation’s accounting needs. “Many of these documents are originals in paper form that, if lost or destroyed, cannot be duplicated,” the affidavit states.

In the order issued at 3:38 p.m., Judge Perry noted the “significant implications” to the case The Navajo Nation v. Alice W. Benally, et. al., associated with the alleged destruction of the Nation’s financial documents.

Perry said the court was aware that Balaran had been trying to obtain various financial documents during his investigation and tenure as special prosecutor. She said the court must consider whether the procedures currently in place are adequate to protect the Nation’s financial records as they relate to the ongoing case.

“As such, the Court is forced to balance the severity of the potential harm associated with the allegations of the destruction of financial documents, against the hardship that may be caused by temporarily halting Navajo Nation Occupational Safety and Health’s ongoing efforts to address mold in Administration Building One.”

Upon review, Perry granted Balaran’s temporary restraining order and set a hearing for 11 a.m. Monday on the motion for a preliminary injunction to determine whether the allegations have merit. She ordered Sandoval, incident commander Wilfred Keeto and any other Navajo Nation employees instrumental to the cleanup efforts and Operation Breathe Safe to be in attendance, with counsel, at the preliminary hearing.

Navajo Division of Public Safety was ordered to stop Navajo OSHA’s cleanup efforts, secure the premises – down to replacing the locks if necessary – and not permit any employees into the building until the court decides the pending motion. She instructed law enforcement to take any violators into custody.

During a Sept. 15 Budget and Finance Committee meeting, Controller Mark Grant stated that the building was vacant and that they were “in the process of contracting for security.”

“We don’t want anyone breaking in now and just having a good time throwing documents around. I think that would be very damaging if that happened. Our servers are still in the building and we don’t want anybody messing with those,” Grant said.