This story was originally published in the Rio Grande SUN on Aug. 23, 2018.
Jicarilla Apache Nation President Levi Pesata appeared before Nation members Aug. 15 during an informal meeting following weeks of tribal members collecting signatures for his potential impeachment.
He attended the meeting with Jicarilla Apache Nation attorney Peter J. Holzem.
Holzem argued with Bernice Muskrat, Jennifer Muskrat and members of the audience as to the legality of the meeting and whether or not they had the constitutional authority to impeach Pesata.
Bernice Muskrat read from a preliminary list of charges against Pesata and asked him to recuse himself from his position.
“You have been served with a statement of charges and you are no longer seated as the president of the Jicarilla Nation,” she said.
While the room erupted in noise, Holzem questioned her about how she planned to remove him. Shouts from Pesata supporters came from the back of the room.
Bernice and Jennifer Muskrat also presented a petition with more than 450 signatures calling for Pesata’s impeachment. Holzem laughed and called the group’s efforts “absolutely absurd.”
The Muskrats also questioned why Ronald Julian, William Muniz and William Julian Jr. did not attend the meeting despite the issuance of a Legislative subpoena for their attendance.
Councilor Shane Valdez also received the subpoena. He attended the meeting.
“You are also actively obstructing the Constitution because these people have been instructed, who are not here, to prevent the legal event of a quorum,” Bernice Muskrat said.
The Muskrats, along with members of the audience, also questioned Pesata’s use of a Nation attorney to defend him during the Council meeting.
After being directly questioned by Jennifer Muskrat, Pesata said he would pay for Holzem’s services during the meeting from his own pocket.
Legislative Council member Leon Reval said he appreciated everyone’s presence at the gathering.
During the hour-long unofficial meeting, he helped to keep the room calm by acknowledging the points of view from people on both sides of the issue.
He read from a pre-written statement.
“Understanding how to balance a motion with reason for the benefit of making a positive decision can be the difference of instant gratification and longevity,” Reval said. “Always question and hold government accountable. Just do so by following the same rules expected. Two wrongs never make a right. A motion led by rage creates further uncertainty, anxiety, stress and most certainly, the erosion of sovereignty. It is all our responsibility to follow the law in the highest standard and never deter despite opinion.”
Pesata’s response to forensic audit
For the first time in public, Pesata commented on a forensic audit of the Apache Nugget Casino.
The audit, released in November 2017, showed Chad Eaton embezzled more than $500,000 from the casino while general manager. Eaton left the position in 2016 and Pesata hired him as comptroller of the Nation in 2017.
“This thing with the casino, I have no direct supervision of the casino,” Pesata said to the audience. “It is managed by the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors is regulated by the Gaming Commission, but when this thing came out, we, I, advised them to contact the authorities.”
Pesata did not specify which authorities were contacted.
“It has been under investigation going on a year right now,” he said. “I can’t interfere with this investigation.”
As he spoke, people in the audience shouted questions and asked him why he decided to hire Eaton as comptroller while there was an active investigation.
Pesata did not answer the audience’s questions.
An official special meeting of the Legislative Council will occur Aug. 23 at the Legislative Council Chambers in Dulce.