Park Service Indian Trading Post Fiasco Finally Unearthed
Inspector General Sat on Scathing Report to Limit Government Officials’ Liability
Washington, DC — It took nearly two years of litigation to produce documents detailing how one of last authentic Indian traders was railroaded by a corrupt investigation and how the Interior Inspector General (IG) covered up its own investigation of the mess. The IG investigation found major lapses of oversight and professionalism in the National Park Service (NPS) law enforcement program that have yet to be addressed, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The IG Report of Investigation was completed and turned over to the NPS in January 2008 but sat in limbo for a year and a half waiting for an NPS response. Even then, the IG never published its own report which concluded that –
- The original NPS investigation into Billy Malone, the resident trader at Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site in Ganado, Arizona, was bad enough to prompt the IG to ask the U.S. Attorney to consider criminal prosecution of the NPS agent, Clyde Yee, for using “false information” to secure search warrants and illegally seizing Malone’s property. Prosecution against Yee was ultimately declined so that the NPS could pursue “administrative remedies”;
- The NPS investigation was crippled by collusion with the Western National Parks Association (WNPA) which filed the meritless embezzlement charge against Malone before firing him; and
- The NPS investigation was a “rush to judgment” to “find fault” without knowing the facts – traits aggravated by systemic lack of “management oversight” amid an NPS culture of “arrogance.”
“Through its own ineptitude, the Park Service destroyed what it was supposed to preserve – the authentic Indian trader tradition,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit forced release of the report and documents explaining its fate. “Instead of serving as an object lesson, the Hubbell Trading Post fiasco became a dirty little secret.”
In 2008, Malone filed a wide-ranging federal civil lawsuit against NPS current and former employees (including Clyde Yee, regional director Mike Snyder, and NPS deputy director Steve Martin), the WNPA, and its top officials. In April 2009, the Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) assigned to defend against Malone’s lawsuit contacted the IG with concerns about the report’s status for fear he would have to turn it over to Malone’s lawyers in discovery. On April 22nd, Alan Boehm, the IG’s chief of “program integrity,” sent this email on the “Malone investigation” to OIG General Counsel Bruce Delaplaine:
“I talked with him [the AUSA] last night and asked that he talk with you. He does not want a copy sent to him. (Our report will not help him but it will help the plaintiff.). Please let me know if you need any other info.”
The IG investigative report remained in “open status” for several more months before it was officially closed and finally obtained in the PEER lawsuit. Documents obtained by PEER confirm that:
- Despite the IG finding that the Park Service law enforcement program needs to improve its professionalism and accountability, no reforms were adopted;
- The Inspector General failed in its role and actually compounded the lack of oversight; and
- Justice for Billy Malone will not be aided by the Department of Justice.
“What went wrong at the Hubbell Trading Post could happen again tomorrow,” said Ruch, noting that Paul Berkowitz, the NPS investigator who blew the whistle on the Hubbell investigation and referred it to the IG, has written a book detailing the investigation and the politics surrounding the case. Ruch added, “This case illuminates the steep integrity challenges that remain unmet inside both the National Park Service and the Office of the Inspector General.”