Reznet News

Reporting from Native America

May 30, 2016
Latest post: March 20 5:07 pm

Man accused of embezzling from prospective Navajo radio project

By Santee Ross, University of Montana

What would you do if you had access to a bank account with $300,000?

Well, if you’re John Pegram Bittner you would spend a third of it on trips, legal and medical expenses and child support payments when the money is supposed to finance a new Navajo Nation radio station.

The Navajo Nation wanted to start the radio station to provide educational and health information to reservation residents, so they turned to Bittner who said he could help them with that. The tribe established a non-profit in Shiprock, N.M. so the grant money awarded for the radio station could be accessed, but the funds only ended up in Bittner’s pockets.

Come on John, child support can’t be taking that much of a toll on you that you have to embezzle money from a Native American radio station.

Tribal members hired John to help them start the radio station because when they hired him he claimed to be a certified member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers. He also said his father helped write FCC guidelines so he understood all the laws and specifications that came with a radio station.

Unfortunately, John was already in financial trouble when he was given the job and the radio station didn’t even get a chance to take off.

Funny that someone who claims to know the ins and outs of FCC guidelines should take advantage of that information just to make his own financial ends meet--tsk tsk John.

Only when legal action was taken against John, did investigators discover his certified membership in the Society of Broadcast Engineers had expired years earlier.

It’s easy to point the finger at John, well I mean let’s get real here even I am pointing my finger at him--tsk tsk John, but I do think some of the responsibility should be placed with the tribal members who gave John full access to the grant money.

John did have some solid credentials so I understand why they hired him in the first place, but how could tribal members basically allow him to head up this project by himself?

The court documents did say that even the president of the Navajo non-profit didn’t fully understand the terms of the contract when they hired on John. Really guys? Did you not learn the lesson about Native people and contracts? There should be full understanding before ANY contract is signed.

This is why Native people should educate themselves further in their fields and take the time to put forth some effort into their projects so that maybe John the embezzler wouldn’t have gotten away with about a third of the radio station money--tsk tsk people.

Santee Ross (Hopi/Lakota) is from Lander, Wyo.