Report: Wildlife Service Official Used Grant Program To Funnel Taxpayer Money To His Wife

Tim Pearce | Energy Reporter

A Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) supervisor used his position to award federal grants to organizations that would profit members of his family, according to an Inspector General report released Tuesday.

The Office of the Inspector General (IG) found that FWS Division of International Conservation Chief Richard Ruggiero may have violated federal ethics regulations when he helped negotiate a grant to a nonprofit group associated with his wife, Heather Eves. Ruggiero also shared information about the grant with Eves that was not released to the public, according to the report.

The association represented a “clear” conflict of interest for Ruggiero.

“Ruggiero initially told [the IG] he did not participate in any decisions related to the agreement, but he later admitted his involvement and said he should have documented the potential conflict and recused himself from working on the agreement,” the report said.

The Ruggiero’s conflict of interest was known to multiple FWS employees, including one senior employee, yet none of them reported the relationship to the FWS Ethics Office. Ruggiero played some role in awarding other grants to groups associated with members of his family.

“This report identified exactly the kind of mismanagement and tax dollar abuse I have been concerned about and I am looking to root out at Interior,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement.

Zinke requested an analysis of the Department of the Interior’s grant programs and disbursements after finding that “not a single person” knew how much in taxpayer funds the agency was giving in grants and through what programs the funds were funneled through.

“The bureaucracy is so big and there’s so little oversight,” Zinke said. “The previous administration created an environment that was so unaccountable that it led to bad actors taking advantage of taxpayers in plain sight.”

The House Committee on Natural Resources has also directed attention to rooting out corruption in the Interior Department and also attention to creating more oversight for federal funds. Committee Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah has weighed in on other inspector general reports and requested follow-up investigations in incidents involving potential ethics violations and corruption.

Along with Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, Bishop requested further investigation into actions by officials at the Bureau of Land Management against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Bundy was on trial for conspiracy and other charges in 2017, but his case was dismissed after evidence revealed prosecutors hid exculpatory evidence and land management officials committed severe ethics violations when dealing with the Bundy family.

“When federal employees misuse their positions for personal gain in cases like [Ruggiero’s], it’s no wonder the public has lost trust in our institutions of government,” Natural Resources Committee Press Secretary Katie Schoettler said in a statement. “While this report signifies a serious lack of accountability of grants under the past administration, we believe Secretary Zinke is fully prepared to handle this matter.”

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