"Poor Judgment and Performance" Acknowledged in National Park Service Investigation of Hubbell Trading Post Operations

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.

AttachmentSize
NPS-Hubbell Response.pdf36.93 KB

Comments

What a mess. That Intermountain Region office seems to be at the center of a lot of messes.

Don't expect to get any substantive responses from the Washington office concerning this matter, or any other matter concerning misconduct (and subsequent punishment) of an NPS employee. Because the NPS employees connected to this matter still have their jobs, and probably suffered no professional repercussions as a result of their involvement. Shameful.

As for the alleged conspiracy against Mr. Malone:
The relationships between the NPS and the large, powerful cooperating associations such as WNPA are built on decades of personal and political alliances. (This is true of most concessioner relationships as well.) Most often it's the tail of the associations and concessioners wagging the NPS dog, the associations and concessioners seeking to preserve and protect their business and cash flow. Mr. Malone posed a threat to WNPA, and the NPS was willingly manipulated into taking action against him.

Cases like this give one the impression that the NPS is really a large for-profit business masquerading as a Federal agency.

This is the modern NPS is a nutshell. Incompetence, cheating and a win at all cost mentality.

Amazing, it took a year and a half to write a one page response to the DOI OIG for God's sake. Can you imagine what the response time to a regular NPS employee would have been? You got it, there would be no response, and they would have been run over by typical heavy-handed NPS administrative process and vindictive managers. Or, they would have just blown off any FOIA or Privacy Act request. Ask around, this happens all the time.

NPS management is morally bankrupt. The agency is in need of a major reevaluation and coarse correction. This case is just one of many bad faith investigations by NPS Special Agents. The DOI OIG needs to take a deeper look. It is time for change.

This issue would have never been investigated and exposed if it wasn't for the fact that a fellow Special Agent blew the whistle on the ... lead Special Agent, informing the OIG. Otherwise, we would have never known about it. It is interesting that the OIG actually investigated it, that it did not get buried, and that the issue didn't get turned around onto the whistle blowing Special Agent. The reporting took guts, considering the track record of the NPS in this regard. It is hard to believe the NPS left him alone and there were no negative consequences for making these disclosures. I bet there is more to that story. The agency was clearly aware that there were major problems with the investigation, but did nothing until forced to by the issue going outside the agency. I agree with ANON that there are many bad faith internal investigations in the NPS and a major evaluation of some of these needs to be conducted. The Special Agent program has been terrible for this agency and it needs much greater oversight.

The anonymous comments posted above on this highly sensitive article indicate that the problem may be systemic and not limited to a single park unit.

Some important questions arise in my mind: To what extent have formal disciplinary actions been taken against individual employees and others based on investigative procedures skewed through inappropriate influence by upper management? To what extent have similar situations occurred, but which have gone unnoticed and unreported due to the absence of a follow-up investigation or the presence of a whistle blower? To what extent do issues similar to those discovered at the Hubbell Trading Post extend beyond the NPS Intermountain Region?

I'd like reassurance that what has occurred at Hubbell Trading Post is not indicative of modes of operation elsewhere.

Well, Pkrnger, one could find something similar to the Hubbell affair (with some very familiar names) again within the IMR. Particularly in the Discussions, comments you'll find the same divide that exists between Malone and NPS through the events that have taken place between NPS and the iconic Grand Canyon Mule Ride. In both cases diminishing the living, historical and cultural history. I could be wrong, Pkrnger, but it appears the problem has been contained to the Intermountain Region. It would go a long way to bring peace to these issues by recognizing the wrongs and fess up. The principles involved have mostly retired but the stigma lives on for NPS until wrongs have been righted.

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