Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert said a recent report from federal investigators shows there’s “exacerbating corruption” in the Department of the Interior (DOI).
“These are troubling findings, and serve as further evidence of exacerbating corruption within the Department of the Interior,” Gohmert wrote in a letter sent to DOI Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall Wednesday.
A DOI inspector general report sent to Congress Friday detailed 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.
What troubles Gohmert is not just the report’s findings, but that IG’s office brought the case to a U.S. attorney in September, 2015, but only notified Congress Friday — right before Memorial Day weekend.
“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.”
Interior investigators were looking at Abbey’s involvement in a Nevada land deal. Abbey, who retired from the BLM in 2012, worked with developer Chris Milam to help him purchase 480 acres of federal land from the BLM in Henderson, Nev., in order to build a sports stadium.
Milam would then pay Abbey’s former consulting firm, Abbey Stubbs & Ford LLC, $528,000 if the sale was successful.
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 Department of Justice declined to prosecute.
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,” according to the IG.
A BLM realty specialist even admitted she “gave precedence to [the partner’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.
Gohmert wants to know why this information was withheld from Congress and the public for so long. Nevada’s U.S. attorney declined to prosecute Abbey after DOI officials brought their case back in September.
“As someone who investigates dishonesty, you certainly understand that evasive answers designed to mask the truth are in and of themselves dishonest and further evidence of a major problem,” Gohmert wrote.
Gohmert’s letter comes just two weeks after Kendall said the DOI had “recently” started posting the results of investigations on its website 30 days after providing the report for review.
“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,” Kendall told Congress in May.