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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.


Rick, we all love the National Parks, the National Park
System and many aspects of the NPS culture. 
However, the National Park Service is an altogether different
animal.  Please do not compensate their
bad behavior or poor leadership.  This
only enables them and allows them to take refuge behind the outstanding
employees who you refer.  In truth,
the contemporary NPS has taken a ride on the reputation created by generations
of outstanding and dedicated employees. 
This generation has not lived up to the proud legacy of the agency.  Please do not sugar coat it.   I know you, and you know it to be true.  Paul is accurate in his assessment and his observations.  There is no way around it – and it hurts me to
acknowledge it, as well.   Protecting this bad behavior only allows more
of it.  We need a return to high standards and
foundational values.  Demand it.  Do not shoot the messenger.  You should be furious that the NPS has not
used this incident to initiate wholesale reforms.  Hold them accountable.

There was a time when the NPS and its ranger/manager corps was held in high esteem. Although the descent toward becoming just another federal agency started prior to the reorganization of 1995, this unrealistic rearrangement and diffusion of leadership, meager personnel and dollars exacerbated the NPS's  crisis and created an environment for disaster. Thankfully, there are some willing to examine the tough stories so that they are less likely to be repeated. I am sorry there was no "Berkowitz" to examine the operations nightmare brought to the Southeast Regional Office by senior management over a near ten year period beginning in the late '90s. Political correctness has buried this embarrassing NPS secret, but it would make an object lesson in how not to manage change among large groups of dedicated, long-term  professional employees. There are two books waiting to be written by an objective investigator, one about the failed reorganization of 1995, the other about the SERO meltdown. In the case of the SERO issue, at least 60 principals, GS-13 and above, could document the mess.

This is my second attempt at post:
I worked for the NPS for 17 years and newsflash Rick, Berkowitz is dead on! I used my real name on this post because I am not ashamed of my perspective and comments.  The NPS went off the rails when they failed to recognize their responsibilities to manage people in addition to resources.  The growth and management of the Law Enforcement program by the NPS should be studied in colleges!  The culture created a structure of managers that treated competence as a secondary skill but loyalty to the existing structure as the most important point.  When the ANPR was founded many of us thought “great.. there will be a push to professionalize the corps”.  NPS managers quickly turned the organization into a way to identify “safe” future managers and promote the good old boy network.  Now don’t get me wrong....There are some outstanding folks in the NPS and some really good managers.  The organization never really engaged in critical evaluation and accountability.  GAO reports and IG reports were tabled because “they didn’t understand the NPS”.  And that Rick is the problem.
 I worked on writing the first real NPS 9 and the lack of critical thinking to get professionalism was staggering.  When I won my MSPB case for 6c retirement (as far as I know the only adjudicated case 1988) I was told by management it wouldn’t stand because they did not want rangers under 6c.  Up and down the chain managers lined up against it but no one looked at why a persons duties might qualify.  No one considered the people doing these duties and the impact of their getting lower pay and no special retirement because the Park Service culture was different.  I could site many similar cases to Berkowitz that occurred to a lesser extent and even went out with Andy Hutchison to look into them.  In all cases NPS management interfered.  It is institutional and structural.  When you have a problem you need to face it.. instead I’ll bet the folks in WASO were concerned about the impact of Berkowitz’s book rather than looking at how to revise your agent structure to make sure this never happens again.  Tell me Rick, is the NPS looking at this?



I don't know if the NPS is looking into this case. It has been a long time since I was a party to those kinds of decisions.

What I said in the book review was that Paul's description did not square up with my experience in the NPS. Evidently, it does for yours. That's not hard to understand as we worked in different parks for different bosses with different kinds of challenges and opportunities. Not only that, but we have different personalities, and we followed different career paths.

Thanks for choosing not to hide behind an anonymous post.


Rick- I appreciate that and no questions your contributions to the agency and yes I left the NPS.  As you decide what the lessons to be learned are consider this.  The NPS has an investigative structure that allowed an innocent man to dragged thru hell.  By not having a professional investigative structure and even failing to acknowledge a problem, the NPS will at some point again harm a citizen. It is enevitable given the lack of accountability systems other Law Enforcement agencies have for Special Agents.  Rick- you have the respect which you deserve of the NPS and if enough folks of your stature looked at this you could make a difference.  Most of us joined the NPS because of a commitment to the Agency mission.  It is now last in satisfaction for employees and the solutions are not that far out of the box.  Most have probably been identified to management but ignored.  I replied because your book review could be seen as trying to blunt the points Paul Berkowitz has made which I can't let pass.

This is an important discussion.  It is not uncommon for senior
managers to have a completely different impression of the agency from field
level managers and staff.  It is also
true that not long ago in NPS history (20 years) the agency was managed by a
completely different group of professionals and the majority were truly impressive.  This generation was completely different, in
terms of commitment and dedication, as well as, their possession of tangible
skills.  I feel that Rick is probably
coming from this perspective, and the tendency to embrace the many positive
aspects of his NPS experience and ignore the rest is natural.  That is not to say that the problems with the
NPS culture, which has resisted change and punished ideas which fell out of the
traditional mold, did not occur during this period; they did.  However, the quality of the employee and the
ethics of the day allowed for mostly professional management.  There were still instances of NPS political self-destruction,
like with the cases involving Regional Directors Howard Chapman and Loraine
Mitzmeyer, to name just a couple.  I
remember how much fear people expressed at voicing their opposition to these disrespectful
and unfair personnel actions.  Even then,
the NPS exercised a punishing approach to challenging management or expressing opposition.  For all the talk about “embracing multiple
points of view,” which is imbedded in NPS interpretative philosophy, the NPS
does not show this tolerance within its own organization.   The
issue here is the stubborn reluctance of senior management to acknowledge
agency mistakes, failure to promote a culture of character, competence and ethical
leadership.  It is always about
leadership.  This is what has changed in
the NPS.  How we grow, mentor, select and
train leaders.  We do not do any of it
well.  We generally select persons who demonstrate
effective followership.  These are
employees who tend to “comply” with those at a higher supervisory level, not experienced leaders with demonstrated experience and ability
to inspire people to accomplish bold initiatives.    The NPS is running from the Hubble incident.  They refuse to discuss it, stating that it is
“…an old issue.”  Of course, they refused
to discuss the issue when it was occurring, stating that it was a “…ongoing or
active personnel issue.”  Absolute cowards.   I
appreciate the previous posts and wish it was safe for a current employee to
actually use their name, but it is not. 
This should tell you everything you need to know about the culture of
the NPS.  We all know the NPS will come
after you for speaking out, find something actionable and use the power of the
administrative disciplinary process to destroy you.  I have seen it dozens of times.  When is our leadership going to step-up to the challenge of leading this agency out of this shameful era? 


Thanks for the kind words. I just finished a term as the chair of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, composed of more than 900 former employees of the NPS. While we did not look specifically at this case, we do urge the Naional Park Service to live up to what Director Jarvis has cited as the three basic principles upon which NPS decisions must be made: 1.) accurate fidelity to the law and policy; 2.) the best available sound science and scholaarship; and 3.) in the long-term public interest. Although this happened long before Jarvis became Director, it certainly does not appear to live up to those standards.

I hope you understand that i am not trying to blunt Paul's points. I acknowledge that there is a lot to learn from the book. I am only giving my opinion on a book that I found very interesting.


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