A U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service (FWS) employee was caught secretly working for a prominent environmental lobbying group while also working for the government, according to an Interior Department inspector general investigation.
Stephen Barton did not disclose being on the payroll of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) from 2004 to 2014, earning more than $377,000 during his last six years with the eco-group. During Barton’s time at FWS, the agency awarded WAFWA about $3 million in taxpayer grants.
Surprisingly, the U.S. attorney’s offices in Eastern District of Virginia and the District of Idaho both declined to prosecute Barton despite evidence he lied to Interior Department officials about taking a salary from WAFWA.
“This investigation determined that Barton received income from WAFWA each year between 2008 and 2014, with the largest amount being $109,242.74 in 2013,” the inspector general reported Monday.
“Records revealed that Barton did not disclose his WAFWA position or salary in any of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) financial disclosure reports that he submitted to FWS in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015,” the IG reported. “According to WAFWA records, Barton was paid a total of $377,363.18 between 2008 and 2014.”
Barton also admitted to “using a Government office phone, cellular phone, and email account, along with Government office space, to perform WAFWA business,” according to the IG. He also signed federal grant applications on behalf of WAFWA using the name of another group officers — remember, WAFWA got about $3 million from taxpayer during this time.
“He also admitted that his FWS job and WAFWA job had sometimes merged together,” the IG reported.
But that’s not all. The IG’s office also found Barton booked more than 100 flights between 2011 and 2015 on the taxpayer’s dime to Boise, Idaho where his wife lived — even though he was supposed to be working in Washington, D.C. Those trips cost taxpayers $96,087.
Barton left FWS in January, and the IG referred his case to the Department of Interior.
This is the second major investigation from the Interior Department IG’s office that federal prosecutors have declined to pursue. The IG recently released a report on how the former head of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bob Abbey, stood to profit from the sale of federal land to a developer who was also a client of his old consulting firm.
Not only did the U.S. attorney for Nevada decline to prosecute Abbey, who also has ties to Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, but Interior investigators did not release the bombshell report until May 2016 — despite finishing their investigation in September 2015.
The delayed release of the Abbey report angered House Republicans.
“These are troubling findings, and serve as further evidence of exacerbating corruption within the Department of the Interior,” Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert wrote in a letter sent to DOI Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall.
“It is similarly troubling that the OIG waited until three days after the Subcommittee’s hearing on DOI ethics violations to release this report summary,” Gohmert wrote. “Particularly since the summary notes that the U.S. Attorney declined to prosecute Mr. Abbey eight months ago and Subcommittee staff specifically asked OIG staff about the disposition of this investigation during a meeting on May 20, 2016.”
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