A Flagstaff, Ariz., man who told members of the Navajo Nation that he could help them launch a public radio station has been indicted by federal authorities on 18 criminal charges (PDF) including theft, wire fraud and money laundering, reports the Arizona Republic. John Pegram Bittner allegedly used more than $100,000 meant for radio equipment on trips, legal and medical expenses, and child-support payments.
In 2007, when Alfreda Beartrack, a health-care administrator for the Navajo in Shiprock, N.M., heard that the FCC was opening a window for noncommercial educational FM licenses (Current, June 25, 2007), she looked for someone with technical expertise to help launch a station. Bittner claimed to be a certified member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers, although his membership had expired in 2004, and told Beartrack that his father wrote FCC guidelines. Bittner signed a contract for sole control of the account holding grant funds for the station. “By last summer, the Navajo Nation’s regulatory commission, which approved the tower and radio station, confirmed to federal investigators that Bittner had not contacted them or provided any progress reports on construction,” the newspaper said.
Federal prosecutors also filed a civil case against Bittner (PDF) in December 2011, seeking to recover more than $130,000.
The Navajo station construction permit, held by Dine Agriculture Inc., expired on Jan. 8.
Bittner is set to appear next week before U.S. District Court in Arizona in the criminal case.