National Park Service investigators and managers who looked into the business operations at Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site exhibited "poor case management" and "poor judgment and performance," according to top agency officials.
That acknowledgment, by then-acting NPS Director Ernest Quintana, was made to the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General in June 2009. It came 18 months after the OIG's office found an investigation by the Park Service's Intermountain Region Office was shoddy and potentially exhibited criminal misconduct by a Park Service special agent.
At the time it presented its report, the OIG asked the Park Service to respond to the allegations within 90 days.
The Park Service investigation into the Hubbell Trading Post incident was launched in April 2004 when the Intermountain Region office in Denver received allegations of forgery and embezzlement at the trading post involving “Indian trader” Billy Malone. It lingered on, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, until early 2007 when the U.S. attorney’s office in Arizona declined to prosecute Mr. Malone.
The OIG got involved near the end of the investigation when a second NPS special agent involved in the matter began to question its integrity. The OIG’s investigation determined that the initial NPS special agent handling the case falsified search warrants used to obtain items from Mr. Malone’s residence, and failed to maintain a clean chain-of-custody of the items seized.
Mr. Quintana did not directly explain in his response (attached below) to OIG why it took so long to formally respond, other than to note that "(A)fter careful review of the investigative report and several informal meetings throughout the past year with your staff, we agree with most of the report findings related to poor case management, concern over the relationship between the NPS and (redacted) the poor handling of evidence, and the overall poor management of the criminal investigation."
"In several instances, the agent provided inadequately researched information, demonstrated poor judgment and performance, and received insufficient supervision and direction," continued the letter, which Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility received through a Freedom of Informational Act request and shared with the Traveler.
The letter, while not going into details, added that "as soon as the related issues of the agent's performance came to our attention and prior to issuance of your report, we took significant actions to address the agent's performance issues..."
The letter did not, however, mention whether those who supervised the special agent were disciplined, nor whether any of the top managers in the Intermountain office were reprimanded by the Washington office.
Park Service officials in Washington have not responded to Traveler questions about the investigation itself, those involved with it, or any resulting repercussions. Steve Martin, the Intermountain Region director at the time of the Hubbell probe and currently superintendent at Grand Canyon National Park, has not responded to Traveler questions about the investigation, nor did Mike Snyder, who was Mr. Martin’s deputy at the time and who just retired from his position as Intermountain Region director rather than take a reassignment.
Last summer a lawsuit was filed by Mr. Malone against a number of Park Service officials from the Intermountain Region, including Mr. Martin and Mr. Snyder. It accused them of misconduct and wrongful seizure of property belonging to Mr. Malone. It also alleged that Park Service officials collaborated with officials from the Western National Park Association, which runs the concession at the trading post, in trying to build a case against the Indian trader.
However, a judge removed the Park Service officials from the matter last month, saying he didn’t think a case could be built to show a conspiracy against Mr. Malone existed between the NPS and WNPA.