The long-running case that forced the resignation of Jeri Johnson-DeCola from the Tonto Apache Tribal Council in 1999 has finally come to an end.
According to a release from John Checkett, Johnson-DeCola's attorney, the tribal appellate court dismissed all 64 felony convictions.
"I'm ecstatic," Johnson-DeCola said. "I'm grateful to the good Lord for this vindication. He was with me the whole time. I am also grateful for my husband, family and friends support."
Former Chief Judge of the Arizona Supreme Court, Thomas Zlaket, served as the Tribal Chief Judge on the three-judge appellate panel that ordered the convictions dismissed March 21.
The Tribal Council alleged that Johnson-DeCola had failed to report a misdemeanor driving conviction while serving as vice chair of the council. The incident occurred in November 1998. The council brought up the issue nearly a year later and Johnson-DeCola was told she had to resign or be removed from the council. She resigned.
"The Tribe claimed that the driving conviction subjected her to removal from office and she defrauded the Tribe through the simple act of receiving her salary as vice chairperson," Checkett said. He added there were never any allegations of wrongdoing in her duties as vice chairman, still 64 felony counts were filed against Johnson-DeCola.
The lower tribal court convicted her, sentenced her to two years probation and ordered her to pay nearly $100,000 in fines and court costs. With the convictions, she was denied the right to run for tribal council, lost her state gaming license and was unable to work at the tribe's Mazatzal Casino where she had been the general manager-in-training.
The appellate court wrote, the Tribe's "train of logic is too strained to bear scrutiny." It was found that Johnson-DeCola did not violate any laws and all convictions were vacated.
"First and foremost, I would like to thank God for being cleared of all the felony charges," Johnson-DeCola said. "It was a long, hard struggle and a terrible ordeal for me to be told I was a cheat and a fraud. Truth and justice has prevailed."
"The tribal appellate court has issued a fair ruling, which supports what we have told the Tribe all along," Checkett said. "Jeri did not break any laws. There was no legal basis to proceed against her. It is gratifying to see justice prevail. Jeri and her husband, J.J., have been very patient over the past seven years. It has been an incredible hardship for them."
Johnson-DeCola is leaving the future in God's hands. "Things are looking up for me. I have my health and peace and love."
She said the fans of Jeri J's Frybread can expect to be able to satisfy their cravings as soon as the weather warms up, though she is not sure where she will set up shop this year.
Attempts to reach the tribal prosecutor, Sevrin Huselid, were unsuccessful.