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Inspector General's Report On Hubbell Trading Post Fiasco Cites National Park Service Errors


In its long-hidden report on the National Park Service's mistake-prone investigation of the business side of Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site the Interior Department's investigative arm cites significant missteps by Park Service investigators and raises questions of the propriety of both the Park Service and Inspector General's probes.

Among those questions:

* Why was no legal action taken against Park Service Special Agent Clyde Yee after it was determined that he "submitted false information on (the) search warrant affavit and did not properly account for cash and evidence seized"?

* Why did the assistant U.S. attorney general in Arizona who was handling the case decline to prosecute the special agent, and what "administrative remedies" did the Park Service take against him?

* What has the Park Service's Intermountain Regional Office done to remedy what the Inspector General's report termed "an inappropriate relationship between NPS and WNPA (the Western National Parks Association) during the NPS investigation"?

* Why did it take a lawsuit to get the Inspector General's office, which finished its investigation in 2008, to release its final report (attached below)?

The case dates to early 2004, when the WNPA approached Intermountain Region officials with concerns that Billy Malone, the resident Indian trader at Hubbell Trading Post, might be embezzling from the trading post.

Those charges were never substantiated. Instead the Park Service conducted an investigation of its own initial Hubbell investigation, and then the Inspector General's office conducted yet another investigation of the investigation. In the end, it's been estimated that more than $1 million was spent by the Park Service on the matter.

Through its investigation the Inspector General's Office "determined that the NPS failed to protect the confidentiality of the investigation, and we found that an improper relationship existed between NPS and WNPA, a nonprofit organization that operates the Hubbell Trading Post under a cooperative agreement with NPS."

What the case also seems to indicate is that Intermountain Region officials didn't fully appreciate how Indian traders worked, nor recognize that in 1967, when the trading post was added to the National Park System, then-Park Service Director George Hartzog Jr. told Congress he wanted it to be run as an authentic trading post, with an Indian trader who did business in the traditional manner.

For instance, the investigations portray curious bookkeeping at the trading post, one in which some paychecks went uncashed, others were signed with little more than an 'X', accounting of inventory and sales was irregular, and more than a few items were kept at Mr. Malone's residence.

However, interviews neglected during the initial Park Service investigation but later pursued showed that it wasn't unusual for an Indian trader to endorse a check made out to a weaver or artisan. Often these individuals didn't read, speak, or write English and so could do little more than make their "mark" on a check, which the trader in turn would routinely endorse for them so they could be cashed, one interview noted.

Mr. Malone also had permission to keep many trading post items in his home -- both consignment articles and those belonging to the trading post, the investigation found.

Park Service officials in Washington, D.C., and the Intermountain Region have declined to discuss the case over the years, citing ongoing legal action in the case by Mr. Malone, who has a civil suit pending in the matter.

The agency did, however, respond to the Inspector General's final report. In that response -- sent 18 months after the Inspector General filed its report on the matter -- the Park Service acknowledged that those initial investigators and managers who looked into the business operations at Hubbell Trading Post exhibited "poor case management" and "poor judgment and performance.

That June 2009 letter to Inspector General also noted that the Park Service "took significant actions to address the agent's performance issues...", but did not mention whether those who supervised the special agent were disciplined, nor whether any of the top managers in the Intermountain office were reprimanded.

The Inspector General's report, obtained through a Freedom of Information Request filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (a similar request by the Traveler has been ignored), provides more details on the matter, including the opinion of the trading post's superintendent at the time that the Intermountain office's investigation was "a rush to judgment" and that it was driven by a desire "to find fault."

Nancy Stone also told investigators for the Inspector General's office that neither the WNPA nor the NPS "foresaw the implications to NPS, WNPA, and the reputation of the park."

"She described the investigation of Malone as a 'wave uncontrolled' and stated that the investigation 'was never objective,'" the report stated.

During her interview with the Inspector General's staff, Ms. Stone also voiced her opinion that the Park Service's Intermountain Region wrongly allowed the WNPA to take control of the trading post operations. The Park Service, she said, "should have stepped up and pushed back" out of its mission to protect parks.

The documents obtained by PEER also show that the assistant U.S. attorney assigned to defend against the lawsuit filed by Mr. Malone specifically told the Inspector General's Office that he did not want a copy of its investigation sent to him out of concerns he in turn would have to provide it to Mr. Malone's attorneys as part of discovery in the case.

On April 22, 2009, Alan Boehm, the Inspector General’s chief of “program integrity,” sent an email on the investigation to OIG General Counsel Bruce Delaplaine that said, in part, "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.)."

The probe into the operations of the Hubbell Trading Post, and the subsequent investigations by the Park Service and the Inspector General's office, have been turned into a book by Paul Berkowitz, another special agent for the Park Service at the time who was called in to investigate the Park Service's initial investigation of the trading post. What he discovered prompted him to go over his boss's head and report his findings directly to the Inspector General's office.

In assessing the Inspector General's report, Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, lamented the Park Service's handling of the matter from start to finish.

“Through its own ineptitude, the Park Service destroyed what it was supposed to preserve – the authentic Indian trader tradition,” Mr. Ruch said. “Instead of serving as an object lesson, the Hubbell Trading Post fiasco became a dirty little secret.

“What went wrong at the Hubbell Trading Post could happen again tomorrow,” he added. “This case illuminates the steep integrity challenges that remain unmet inside both the National Park Service and the Office of the Inspector General.”

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The track record of NPS leadership is clear.  This case
is a repeat of numerous previous examples of poor leadership, management and supervision. 
The NPS routinely engages in malfeasance, corruption and cover-up.  They
then use the administrative process to harm, wear down, stall and cover the
tracks of the favored players.  They routinely disregard FOIA requests and
fail to respond to correspondence, as well as, directly provide false
information and testimony to further their corrupt positions.  How many
examples do we need before the agency changes course?  The promise of DOI
Secretary Salazar and NPS Director Jarvis to restore the confidence of the
American people in the Department is clearly failing.  A case in point is
the Teresa Chambers case.  The DOI, nor the NPS, made this abuse of power
case right.  She had to have it settled within the federal court system,
requiring the NPS to reinstate her, and pay her millions in back pay.  The
Department and the NPS sat by and did nothing for years - in fact went after
her.  When the court directed her reinstatement due to the clear agency
reprisal, the Secretary and the NPS Director acted as if it was their idea and
tried to derive credit with a public ceremony.   It was a pathetic
scene.  There are so many other examples.  The Hubble Case provides a
look into the inner workings of the NPS and demonstrates how the NPS goes after
its perceived enemies, engages in corruption, cover-up, and when it all goes
bad, pressures the DOI Inspector General to alter and manage its investigative
reports to protect the favored employees.  If we cannot trust the DOI IG,
it is no wonder why the NPS operates with such arrogance and impunity. 
Our departments system of checks and balances is a sham.

Sad to See it Go,
Two of the three individuals you mentioned also led the assault on "historic traditions" at Grand Canyon National Park.  If NPS should discover a way to reconcile the damage, would they do it?  Or, just let something so good just fade into the history books.  I prefer the LIVING history as Director Hartzog did and not some insufferable footnote on the way to cultural ruination!

Unfortunately, I'm afraid that much of Dine culture is dying out simply because time is taking those who lived it away from us.

It has been a long time since I had much contact with the wonderful Navajo people, but at that time we were still punishing their children for speaking English and doing a lot of harm as we white eyes tried to "assimilate" our neighbors into OUR culture.

I'm far from the Four Corners now, but I hope there are dedicated Dine out there who are working to undo the damage and preserve the traditional ways.  Can anyone living down there now offer some reassurance?

Sadly Hubbell will likely never recover. It will become the historic artifact that Geroge Hartzog was so vehemently against in the legislative process for Hubbell. Once you've lost the trust and participation of the traditional peoples that the trading post served - in the traditional ways of a trading post - it's almost impossible to ever regain that trust again. Thank you Steve Martin, Mike Snyder and Clyde Yee for destroying what was a living and vibrant example of the role of trading posts on the Dine nation.

That may be so, Flyer5000, but I think they're important questions and I would hope someone else would be asking them. Interior Sec Salazar talks all about transparency, but it's obviously lacking if not entirely MIA. And if no one is held accountable for their actions, and misactions, what are we left with?

Correction,  "It WOULD be something significant and WOULD deserve respect if NPS could rectify what's happened at Hubbell (and other areas that the two impacted negatively).  

I think that you could do a much better job in emphasizing those are YOUR questions being raised in the article above, Kurt, not those of anyone else.

Frankly, besides poor old Malone, and his attorney, and you, I don't know if anyone else is asking them.

We've had our differences in the past but I hope you are right on this.  It really is an IMPORTANT and telling reflection on NPS if they could correct an error.  Everyone and every agency makes mistakes but to correct something so egregious as this one, I would applaud, GREATLY!  It really is a sign of significant ....deserved RESPECT!

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