Man indicted for taking funds from Navajo FM startup


The Navajo Nation began working on putting a Low Power FM together for their territory in Arizona that would provide news and info on health programs throughout the reservation, so they tapped Flagstaff, AZ businessman John Pegram Bittner. He told tribal officials that he was a certified member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers whose father had helped write federal regulatory guidelines.

However, according to an Arizona Republic story, the project began attracting grant money, Bittner never purchased any radio gear and instead spent more than $100,000 on trips, legal and medical expenses, and child-support payments, according to an indictment handed up against him in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.

The indictment obtained by RBR-TVBR charges Bittner with 10 counts of wire fraud, three of theft of public money, three of false statements and two of transactional money laundering.  

It all started some five years ago when disease-prevention coordinator Alfreda Beartrack with the Indian Health Services in New Mexico found out that the FCC was opening a window to apply for radio licenses. Bittner contacted Beartrack and informed her that he was an FCC engineer and came with high recommendations. He also told Beartrack that his father wrote FCC guidelines and that he understood FCC and regulations. Bittner’s membership in the SBE had expired years earlier.

But by fall 2009, federal agencies had approved the grant for station, awarding $322,364 to Dine Agriculture, Inc., a non-profit the tribe established. About a year later, construction of the station in Roof Butte, AZ was approved. The application states that the overall cost of the Roof Butte project would be $429,819 and asked the NTIA to supply 75% of the cost (the $322,364). The remaining 25% would be provided by the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Department of the Northern Navajo Medical Center, operated by the Department of Health & Human Services.

Bittner then opened a bank account in tied to a non-profit he founded called “Media Innovation Collective.” He used the group’s non-profit status to administer monies from the federal grant intended for the station. Federal prosecutors filed a civil case against Bittner 12/11, seeking to recover more than $130,000 they allege Bittner took. A separate case brought by federal prosecutors in March contained 18 criminal charges against him–including theft, wire fraud and money laundering, said the story.

Click here to read the full Arizona Republic story