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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | North Coast | Environment & Forest Defense | Government & Elections
Former MLPA Initiative science official charged with conspiracy to embezzle
Many North Coast residents believe the charges against LeValley call into question the legitimacy of the "science" used to close big areas of the North Coast to fishing and gathering under the MLPA Initiative – while doing nothing to stop pollution, fracking, oil drilling, wind and wave energy projects and all human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering.
The validity of the science employed by the MLPA Initiative Science Advisory Team under LeValley’s leadership becomes even more suspect when one considers that LeValley and the Team repeatedly and inexplicably refused to allow the Yurok Tribe to present their scientific studies regarding "marine protected areas."
Photo of Ron LeValley (L), MLPA Initiative Science Advisory Team Co-Chair, with Ken Wiseman, MLPA Initiative Executive Director, by David Gurney.
Former MLPA Initiative science official charged with conspiracy to embezzle
by Dan Bacher
The U.S. Attorney on October 11 formally charged Ron LeValley of Eureka with conspiracy to commit embezzlement and theft from an Indian Tribal Organization,” the Yurok Tribe.
LeValley, of Mad River Biologists, served as Co-Chair of the Science Advisory Team for the privately-funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create "marine protected areas" on the North Coast during much of the time that the alleged embezzlement occurred.
Federal prosecutors charged LeValley with conspiring with Roland Raymond, former Yurok Tribe forestry director, to submit false invoices to the tribe for spotted owl surveys and other work that was never done. The invoices totaled nearly $1 million, according to federal documents.
Raymond pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to embezzle from an Indian Tribe. He will be sentenced On November 5, 2013.
William Kimball, LeValley’s lawyer, declined to comment about the case to the Eureka Times-Standard, Associated Press and other publications.
In the scandal that has rocked the North Coast, Del Norte District Attorney Jon Alexander on February 23, 2012 arrested LeValley and fellow Mad River biologist Sean McAllister on $1 million warrants accusing them of burglary, embezzlement and conspiracy to commit a crime.
The Del Norte County District Attorney alleged that the two well-known biologists participated in an elaborate embezzlement scheme headed by Raymond that bilked the tribe out of $900,000 that was supposed to fund spotted owl research.
However, the District Attorney later dropped the charges to allow federal authorities to pursue the charges against Raymond and LeValley. Federal charges against McAllister haven’t been filed yet - and it remains unclear if they will.
The document recently filed by federal authorities details how the alleged conspiracy proceeded. The link to the indictment is available at: http://noyonews.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/U.S._v._Ron_LeValley_As_Filed.pdf
According to the document, “Beginning on a date unknown, but no later than 2007,” Raymond told LeValley he wanted to pay him, other Mad River Biologists employees, and some tribal forestry and fire crew employees a bonus. Raymond suggested LeValley submit an inflated invoice to the Yurok Tribe for an additional amount to cover the bonuses.
”LeValley agreed to this arrangement, and caused such an invoice to be prepared and submitted to the Yurok Tribe, ” the document states.
At the end of October 2008, Raymond obtained tribal approval for $98,000 worth of Endangered Species Act (ESA) surveys to be conducted by Mad River Biologists (MRB).
Raymond told LeValley that the tribe did not have money to pay for fire prevention and other forestry work - and asked him to begin regularly submitting false invoices for work his company hadn't performed, according to the document.
LeValley allegedly funneled the money back to Raymond, less a percentage. This percentage was identified in other court documents as 20 percent, according to the Eureka Times-Standard. (http://www.times-standard.com/localnews/ci_24368336/local-biologist-charged-embezzlement-federal-prosecutors-charge-ron)
During 2009 and 2010, as a result of the economic downturn, the price of timber fell significantly and timber harvesting declined dramatically. “The Yurok Tribe did not harvest much timber during those years and had little need for biological assessments,” the document states.
Nonetheless, Mad River Biologists nonetheless billed the tribe for approximately $852,000 worth of surveys. LeValley funneled at least $540,000 of this money back to Raymond, keeping the balance to pay his company's operations.
These expenses included his salary, “not less than $47,000 in total 2009 compensation” and “not less than $9,800 in total 2010 compensation,” the document claims.
Yurok Tribe, fishermen outraged by alleged embezzlement scam
The Yurok Tribe, fishing groups and grassroots environmentalists were outraged by the alleged embezzlement scheme from the moment it was uncovered.
On February 14, 2012, the Yurok Tribal Council, in a letter to Tribal Members expressed "great disappointment and outrage" over "serious allegations of theft of Tribal resources" by two biologists and the former Yurok Forestry Department Director after the embezzlement was discovered. (http://extras.times-standard.com/multimedia/pdfs/YrkTrb_ltr2.pdf)
The letter informed Tribal members that, as part of the internal investigation, the Tribe would institute a series of measures including the hiring of a Controller and Auditor General; the hiring of an Accounting Fraud Examiner; and the implementation of an independent review of its fiscal and associated procedures.
"The Tribal Council understands the outrage that we all may feel as the victims of these alleged crimes,” said Thomas O’Rourke, Chairman of the Yurok Tribe, in the letter. “The Tribe will provide more information shortly and will continue to insure that these alleged crimes that are subject to the fullest prosecution under the law.”
Many North Coast residents believe the charges against LeValley call into question the legitimacy of the "science" used to close vast areas of the North Coast to fishing and gathering under the MLPA Initiative – while doing nothing to stop pollution, fracking, oil drilling, wind and wave energy projects and all human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering.
“I would like to know how the state of California is going to revise the science advice LeValley provided for the North Coast MLPA Initiative process, based on him allegedly filing false documents,” said Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA).
He suggested forming a “truth and reconciliation commission” to unravel "what really happened" in the MLPA Initiative.
MLPA Initiative science is 'incomplete and terminally flawed,' according to Tribes
The validity of the science employed by the MLPA Initiative Science Advisory Team under LeValley’s leadership becomes even more suspect when one considers that LeValley and the Team repeatedly and inexplicably refused to allow the Yurok Tribe to present their scientific studies regarding "marine protected areas." The Tribe exposed the questionable science of the MLPA Initiative in a statement on June 6, 2012. (http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2012/06/17/18715613.php)
"Under the MLPA each marine species is assigned a certain level of protection," according the Tribe. "Species like mussels are given a low level of protection, which in MLPA-speak, translates to more regulation.
"To date, there has been no scientific data submitted suggesting that mussels on the North Coast are in any sort of danger or are overharvested. In fact, it's just the opposite. The readily available quantitative survey data collected over decades by North Coast experts shows there is quite an abundance of mussels in this sparsely populated study region," the Tribe continued.
"Fish like Pacific eulachon, also known as candle fish, are given a high level of protection, or in other words, their harvest is not limited by the proposed regulations. Eulachon are near extinction and listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act," the Tribe stated.
"Both of these marine species are essential and critical to the cultural survival of northern California tribes," said Thomas O'Rourke, Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. "However, under the proposed regulations they would be summarily mismanaged. It's examples like these that compel our concerns."
The Tribe said it attempted on numerous occasions to address the scientific inadequacies with the MLPA science developed under the Schwarzenegger administration by adding "more robust protocols" into the equation, but was denied every time.
For example, the MLPA Science Advisory Team Co-Chaired by LeValley in August 2010 turned down a request by the Tribe to make a presentation to the panel. Among other data, the Tribe was going to present data of test results from other marine reserves regarding mussels
The Northern California Tribal Chairman's Association, including the Chairs of the Elk Valley Rancheria, Hoopa Valley Tribe, Karuk Tribe, Smith River Rancheria, Trinidad Rancheria, and Yurok Tribe, documented in a letter how the science behind the MLPA Initiative developed by Schwarzenegger's Science Advisory Team is "incomplete and terminally flawed." (http://yubanet.com/california/Dan-Bacher-MLPA-Initiative-based-on-incomplete-and-terminally-flawed-science.php)
On the day of the historic direct action protest by a coalition of over 50 Tribes and their allies in Fort Bragg in July 2010, Frankie Joe Myers, Yurok Tribal member and Coastal Justice Coalition activist, exposed the refusal to incorporate Tribal science that underlies the "science" of the MLPA process.
“The whole process is inherently flawed by institutionalized racism," said Myers. "It doesn't recognize Tribes as political entities, or Tribal biologists as legitimate scientists." (http://klamathjustice.blogspot.com/2010/07/july-21st-2010.html)
Wouldn't it have been prudent for the Natural Resources Agency and Department of Fish and Wildlife to have postponed the implementation of the alleged North Coast "marine protected areas” until this case had been resolved in the courts - and when the legitimacy of the "science" of the MLPA Initiative was already facing severe criticism from respected Tribal scientists?
MLPA Initiative Background:
The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) is a law, signed by Governor Gray Davis in 1999, designed to create a network of marine protected areas off the California Coast. However, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 created the privately-funded MLPA “Initiative” to “implement” the law, effectively eviscerating the MLPA.
The “marine protected areas” created under the MLPA Initiative fail to protect the ocean from oil spills and drilling, water pollution, military testing, seismic testing, wave and wind energy projects, corporate aquaculture and all other uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering.
The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces that oversaw the implementation of “marine protected areas” included a big oil lobbyist, marina developer, real estate executive and other individuals with numerous conflicts of interest. Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, served on the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the North Coast and North Central Coast.
Reheis-Boyd, a relentless advocate for offshore oil drilling, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the Keystone XL Pipeline and the weakening of environmental laws, also chaired the South Coast MLPA Blue Ribbon Task that developed the MPAs that went into effect in Southern California waters on January 1, 2012.
The MLPA Initiative operated through a controversial private/public partnership funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation. The Schwarzenegger administration, under intense criticism by grassroots environmentalists, fishermen and Tribal members, authorized the implementation of marine protected areas under the initiative through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the foundation and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.