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Billy Malone And the National Park Service Investigaton At Hubbell Trading Post

Editor's note: Earlier this year the Traveler reviewed this book. The following review, which offers a somewhat different perspective, comes from Rick Smith, a long-time Park Service employee who rose up through the ranks to become one of its top managers.

This is a very difficult book for me to review for a couple reasons.  The first is the case itself.  It involves Billy Malone, the last real Indian Trader employed at Hubbell Trading Post for 24 years. 

Malone was among a small group of traders who ran their posts according to the old ways of doing things, probably in much the same manner as did John Lorenzo Hubbell and his family when they were still active.  He bought and sold jewelry and rugs without the kind of accounting accuracy that one would expect at a souvenir shop at Grand Canyon or Yellowstone. 

He accepted things on consignment and because many of his customers were unable to read or write, especially English, he often forged their signatures on the checks he cashed so that he could give them real money; most did not have bank accounts.  Although he worked closely with the NPS at Hubbell, he was an employee of the old Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, later to become the Western National Parks Association.  He was also, as were most of the old traders, a serious collector of Indian baskets, rugs, and jewelry. 

It is not difficult to imagine what happens when the new management team of WNPA is selected.  They begin a series of audits to try to determine what belongs to Billy and what belongs to the Trading Post.  Despite his sterling reputation among other traders and the inhabitants of the Navajo Reservation, they become convinced that Billy is guilty of defrauding the Trading Post.  They convince the NPS to open a criminal investigation into Billy’s activities.  He was also terminated from his job.  Everything goes downhill from there.

The criminal investigator assigned to the case makes a series of errors that would make a rookie protection ranger blanch.   During the raid on Billy’s house, he seizes far more (rugs, blankets, jewelry) than the search warrant authorizes. 

He does not maintain an adequate chain of custody of the seized property, even allowing the Executive Director of WNPA to drive one of the vans that contains a portion of the seized property.  When the criminal investigator in Tucson who has control of the property at WACC (Western Archaeological and Conservation Center) is on leave, he authorizes a locksmith to cut the lock on the storage room so that people can see what has been seized.  He withholds information that could be exculpatory from the Assistant US Attorney.  These and many other errors of omission or commission make this case a nightmare.

What is even harder to accept is that the investigator seems to be operating with the full consent and support of the senior managers of the Intermountain region, so much so, in fact, that when the second investigator assigned to the case, Paul Berkowitz, the author of this book, submits his final report he submits it not to the NPS, but directly to the Office of the Inspector General. 

Paul’s exhaustive investigation finally leads to the return of the seized property to Malone and a decision by the US Attorney to drop all criminal charges that had been filed against Malone.  In turn, Malone has filed a civil complaint in Federal District Court against many of the NPS personnel involved in the case.

What also makes this book hard to review is Berkowitz’ unflattering analysis of NPS culture, its law enforcement program and its senior management.  While he admits that there are lots of good NPS employees, he is relentless in his criticism of what he sees as corruption, cronyism, and lack of respect for law and policy within the ranks of NPS leadership.
To give you an idea of what I mean, here is his take on the Yosemite Mafia, “…"the humorous title proudly invoked by the group belies a darker side exhibited by many of its more powerful and influential members, lending altogether different meaning to the much- touted image of the NPS as a 'family.' Over time several of these powerful figures have variously been implicated in illegal activities ranging from trespassing and molestation, electronic eavesdropping and attempted blackmail, the use of government funds to pay off extortion attempts, the theft of government firearms, to even kidnapping and rape."  (To be absolutely fair, I am sure that I would be considered a member of the Yosemite Mafia.  Maybe that’s why that statement provoked such a strong reaction in me.)

Paul’s description of NPS culture and leadership does not square up with mine.  I went to dozens of superintendent’s meetings, worked in 7 parks, WASO and two Regional Offices.  The vast majority of the people with whom I came in contact were honest, hard-working, dedicated employees who wouldn’t think of using their positions to unfairly advance their careers or condone sloppy, incomplete law enforcement work. 

Oh sure, we can all think of exceptions to that rule, but Paul seems to make the exceptions the rule.  He is right about one thing, though.  The NPS is super resistant to change.  One only has to think of all the task force reports and committee deliberations that are gathering dust on shelves to confirm his assertion that the NPS culture is highly resistant to change and tends to ignore or punish different points of view.  Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that the agency ranks so low in the “best places to work in the Federal Government” surveys, especially in leadership.

I never worked with Paul so I cannot comment on his attitudes toward the NPS and his fellow employees except to say that I have always heard the rumor that he was sour on the NPS, especially its law enforcement profile, and his colleagues. 

But, this book is provocative and will make you think about the NPS and how it conducts itself, not only in this investigation, but also in its other activities.  I read it in two days; that’s how interesting I found it.  There are lessons to be learned here.  It will take me a couple days to figure out exactly what they are.

Amazon Detail : Product Description

This is the story of Billy Gene Malone and the end of an era. Malone lived almost his entire life on the Navajo Reservation working as an Indian trader; the last real Indian trader to operate historic Hubbell Trading Post. In 2004, the National Park Service (NPS) launched an investigation targeting Malone, alleging a long list of crimes that were "similar to Al Capone." In 2005, federal agent Paul Berkowitz was assigned to take over the year- and-a-half-old case. His investigation uncovered serious problems with the original allegations, raising questions about the integrity of his supervisors and colleagues as well as high-level NPS managers.

In an intriguing account of whistle-blowing, Berkowitz tells how he bypassed his chain-of-command and delivered his findings directly to the Office of the Inspector General.


I am reading the Paul Berkowitz book, "The Case of the Indian Trader" reviewed by Traveler contributing editor Mr Rick Smith. I appreciate Mr. Smith's comments, the book is a riveting read, I simply cannot put it down. I did work with Mr. Berkowitz at Yosemite National Park, but was involved in wilderness management, I did not get involved with Paul and his duties in law enforcement. I did work extensively with Park Ranger Jim Rlley and think Paul summed up things honestly when he indicated his focus (Paul's) was law enforcement while Mr. Riley was more traditional in his interests as a Park Ranger. Mr. Riley is one the finest men I worked with in my career and his confidence in Paul lends much creditability to Paul's book, at least in my own view. But more than that, Paul's book rings true, I am/was acquainted with many of the key players in the book on the NPS side, Paul has articulated the issues well. For those interested in what can go wrong (and then get straightened out by ethical and competent people), this book is a must read. I would like to thank Mr. Berkowitz for his outstanding effort here and hope that Mr. Malone has been made whole again by our legal system.

Just thought to follow up on this and ask the question of what has happened concerning the Billy Malone law suit against the principle individuals among NPS staff and Federal Judiciary involved.  There appears to be an effort to turn a page on this episode in a positive way with more communicative and engaging leadership (my impression).  Adding to my interest is how those responsible, both individual and agency, have moved on (beyond my impression). 

Rick et al:
Your mention of the Best Places to Work survey (and the recent Morning Report pep talk on same) reminds me of former DOI Inspector General Earl Devaney's Congressional testimony some years ago:

Chairman and members of the committee, I have served in Federal government for
a little over 32 years. I have never seen an organization more unwilling to
accept constructive criticism or embrace new ideas than the National Park
Service. Their culture is to fight fiercely to protect the status quo and
reject any idea that is not their own. Their strategy to enforce the status quo
is to take any new idea, such as a law enforcement reform, and study it to
death. Thus any IG recommendation or, for that matter, Secretarial directive,
falls victim to yet another Park Service workgroup charged by their National
Leadership Council to defend the status quo from those of us who just do not
understand the complexities of being a ranger.

Earl Devaney, IG for DOI 2003: U.S. Borders: Safe or Sieve

I can't think of a thing that's changed since then. Why does NPS fall so far behind the Bureau of Prison on that survey! Why is there no encouragement of innovation or imagination within NPS from field people? Steve Jobs was quoted as saying that the success of his companies was because the hierarchy of ideas was not the same as the hierarchy of management. A terrific concept NPS is totally deaf to in its ossified top-down management culture.


Make no mistake, my more than 40 years as an NPS seasonal has -- and continues to be -- great, but what a moribund and timid bunch tend to accumulate in vital positions of management.



When I read Jarvis' three basic principles, I had to reread a few times.  How can this be?  You must not be aware of his involvement in the Mt Rainier scandal, when as superintendent and Western Region Director, he approved his assistant's (David Uberuaga who was in charge of concessions) sale of his house to the concessionaire who had a monopoly on the climbing busines for nearly four times it's assessed value.  Assessed at $122,400 sold for $425,000! The incident was white washed, Jarvis gave him a reprimand, let him keep the money and later promoted Uberuaga to superintendent of Grand Canyon Nat'l Park. If you can't retrieve it, I have the article.  Jarvis has been orchestrating a campaign to destroy a mariculture operation in Pt. Reyes California, Drakes Bay Oyster Company.  Don Neubacher, the then superintendent of PRNS got himself in hot water by making false statements to publice officials, conspired to fabricate evidence of harm to harbor seals,altered maps of boundries and didn't tell the CDFG, CDPH , the owner of DBOC, other concerned agencies and much, much more. Jarvis had to get rid of him so he was promoted to Yosemite., another park with huge concessions income. Thanks to the intervention of a highly qualified scientist, the Marin County Board of Supervisors, Senator Diane Feintein, and others, two DOI invesigations ocurred.  The first investigation was white washed  by the investigator( I am happy to provide you with that information) Following the last investigation in 2010, the field solicitor found "bias", "troubling mindset", "mistakes", "mishandled data",  "acting improperly", "willingness to allow subjective beliefs and values to guide scientific conclusions", 'misconduct" and "erring'.  Remarkably, or maybe not so, the investigator fails to find "intent to committ scientific misconduct". ( I am in possession of reams of scientific misconduct if you care to examine ).  Instead the investigator finds evidence of "administrative misconduct",  He never mentions his earlier conclusion that there was clear violation of of the NPS Code of Scientific and Scholarly Conduct.  Why am I not surprised?  When Jarvis appeared before the congressional committee for confirmation he with the influence of Pete Peterson of the  Ocean Studies Board were able to mislead the committee into believing claims of scientific misconduct, conspiracy, and other nefarious acts were without substance.  Check out Feinstein's letter to Ken Salazar on Sept. 2, 2011.  Under Jarvis' watch, regionally and nationally, he has violated the public trust ...

Rick- appointing new people with the "new systems" is pointless and not a long term solution.  Special agents need to exist in a structure of extreme accountability.  There needs to be a straightline to WASO chain of command of Special Agents; like all other agencioes with Special Agents there needs to be formalized case reviews every 30 days; procedures for opening and closing cases at various levels; budget and equipment costs to fund an investigation and REVIEWS by qualified Special Agents up the chain.  This is how you get accountability to manage the "Investigative Power" genie.  The ATF case cited above is a problem of Political interference which is not unlike what Berkowitz is pointing out.  People with an agenda were able to manipulate an investigator who had little real experience and because of the politics and levels involved it became the NPS equivalent of Operation Fast and Furious.  Rick-- changing people with changing the structure is meaningless in preventing another fiasco.

Sorry but I thought of the Hubbell affair when I read this tonight.

Okay, something more than direction change would be nice.  Reconciliation requires something more for things to be righted.  It didn't happen with the retirement of the principles involved and the continued Superintendent status of another.  Coming to terms of mistakes requires confession and a request for forgiveness.  Otherwise, those that perpetrated the events live with there actions and the victims no longer TRUST.  I'm leaving that door open and hope that people man up.  It's such a load that is lifted for those on both sides :).

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