A former Navajo attorney general had serious questions about the tribe's purchase of a northern Arizona ranch, a former secretary to suspended tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald testified Tuesday at MacDonald's bribery and conspiracy trial.
MacDonald and his son, Peter "Rocky" MacDonald Jr., are on trial in tribal court on charges stemming from the tribe's 1987 purchase of the Big Boquillas Ranch for $33.4 million hours after it was sold to a third party for $26.25 million.Regina McCabe read from a July 6, 1987, letter from then-Navajo Attorney General Michael Upshaw to Ninibah Cahn, who was executive director of Navajo Land Administration.
In the letter, Upshaw said the July 2 draft purchase agreement did not address issues raised by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, such as the identity of the seller and the fairness of the price.
Upshaw said Tenneco West had held the ranch, either directly or through a subsidiary, since 1926 and had either optioned or conditionally sold the ranch to Tracy Oil and Gas Co., who was not considered a "serious buyer" based on its financial status.
Upshaw also questioned whether Scottsdale real estate broker Byron "Bud" Brown was one of a "syndicate or group of partners" involved in the sale and whether the price of the ranch had escalated over the previous year.
Escalation of the price would not have made the transaction illegal, but it might represent a "very bad bargain for the buyer," Upshaw wrote.
Brown and his brother, Truett W. Brown, were indicted by a federal grand jury in October on money laundering and conspiracy charges stemming from their role in the Big Boquillas transaction.
The complaint against MacDonald alleges that he received $75,000 and a lease on a 1987 BMW for selling the deal to the Tribal Council.
McCabe testified that Cahn, who was appointed by MacDonald to "spearhead" the ranch purchase, was "really upset" over Upshaw's letter.
"She was upset that the attorney general had written such a crazy letter," McCabe testified. "She said the chairman should have gotten rid of him earlier."
McCabe said Cahn had told her before receiving the letter that she was having "a lot of problems with the attorneys at the Justice Department" over the ranch purchase because they "wanted the title and deeds."