The Interior Department gave Congress an investigation into a land deal made by a former federal appointee with connections to Nevada Sen. Harry Reid on the eve of a major holiday weekend, and did not notify the public of its findings until Tuesday.
The DOI inspector general found Bob Abbey, the former Bureau of Land Management head, stood to personally benefit from the sale of federal land to a developer who wanted to build a sports stadium.
DOI policy requires the agency to report the findings of investigations to the public 30 days after the investigation is closed. But although the DOI brought the findings to a U.S. attorney in September 2015, the agency only reported the findings to the public this week.
The IG found evidence Abbey “stood to benefit personally from the sale” of the land and was “personally and substantially involved in the pre-sale process,” but the Justice Department declined to prosecute.
Two weeks ago DOI’s deputy inspector general said the agency had “recently” began posting the results of investigations on the website 30 days after providing the report to the Department for review, so according to that policy, the Abbey investigation should have been released to the public sooner.
“With a 30- day public release date, we hold the Department accountable for prompt action and provide Congress and the public with more timely notice of our investigative results,” Deputy IG Mary Kendall told Congress in May.
Interior investigators have been looking into the Abbey land deal for years. Abbey, who retired from the BLM in 2012, reportedly tried to use his office to help developer Chris Milam purchase 480 acres of federal land from the BLM in Henderson, Nevada in order to build a sports stadium. Milam would then pay Abbey’s former consulting firm, Abbey Stubbs & Ford LLC a $528,000 if the sale was successful.
But the land sale never went through. Milam was sued by Clark County and settled in 2013 “on the conditions that he would pay the City $4,500,000; that he would never do business in Henderson again; and that his investors would replace him in the land sale process,” according to the IG.
Abbey was also tied to Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid. In 2009, Reid personally recommended then-Interior Sec. Ken Salazar choose Abbey to head the BLM. Abbey’s business partners, Mike Ford and Barry Stubbs, also supported Reid’s 2010 re-election bid. Both are listed as members of the group “Republicans for Harry Reid.”
A House Committee on Natural Resources report from 2014 also highlighted some of the connections between Abbey and Reid’s office. For example, Abbey was scheduled to appear on a 2010 panel alongside former Reid staffer Neil Kornze. The panel was moderated by Ford.
The committee also dug up an email exchange between Abbey and Ford regarding a Desert Xpress — one of Abbey’s former clients.
“As a follow up to our call this weekend I learned Senator Reid may be making an inquiry regarding timely action by the FWS as it relates to completion on the Biological Opinion,” Ford wrote to Abbey in 2010. “Certainly no BLM issues.”
Abbey then forwarded the email to a senior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official.
“See note below,” he wrote. “This is a follow up to the question you asked me regarding Desert Express railroad that is proposed to be built in Southern CA and Clark County, NV. FYI.”
The IG also reported Ford, Abbey’s business partner before and after his time at BLM, “had an unusually high level of access to BLM personnel and processes before and during the Henderson land sale.”
A BLM realty specialist even admitted she “gave precedence to Ford’s land applications when he did business with BLM, and that she had shared draft documents with him during the Henderson presale.”
“Her actions appeared to violate Federal regulations that prohibit preferential treatment and the improper use of nonpublic information,” the IG reported.
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