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For Immediate Release: Dec 01, 2003
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

UTAH LAND TRADE REFERRED TO ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR PROSECUTION

Special Counsel Withholds Norton's Probe into Whistleblower Allegations


Washington, DC -- The U.S. Office of Special Counsel has disclosed that an investigation of a controversial land exchange involving the State of Utah found "evidence of criminal violations" that have been referred to the U.S. Attorney General but has refused to release that report, according to a letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

In late November, the Department of Interior submitted a long-delayed investigative report to the Office Special Counsel into charges by a Bureau of Land Management appraiser, Kent Wilkinson, that a supposedly equal land exchange would shortchange taxpayers by more than $100 million. Despite a general policy that the whistleblower be allowed to comment on reports, OSC will not release the report to Mr. Wilkinson because, according to a letter dated November 21 --

"…pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 1213(f), when evidence of a criminal violation is obtained by the agency and referred to the Attorney General, the report is not transmitted to the whistleblower. The Department's report in this case states that evidence of criminal violations were referred to the Attorney general, thus, we cannot transmit the report to you."

This July, Interior Secretary Gale Norton released to selected reporters an Inspector General investigation that found "improper actions" by political appointees and senior officials in the Office of the Solicitor and BLM. That IG investigation report not only confirmed Kent Wilkinson's charges but also found a subsequent attempt by top officials to mislead Congress as to the real terms of the land exchange with the State of Utah. At the same time, Interior notified Utah that it was rescinding the trade even though it had already been ratified by the state legislature and had passed the U.S. House of Representatives

"Unless Secretary Norton releases the report, how will the public know whether it actually addresses the problems raised by the whistleblower?" asked PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer who represents Mr. Wilkinson. PEER has submitted requests under the Freedom of Information Act to both OSC and Secretary Norton for release of the report.

Interior has previously confirmed that a Deputy Assistant Secretary, Tom Fulton, has been removed but given another job overseeing the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Celebration. It has also confirmed that BLM Director Kathleen Clarke is under investigation. In addition, Interior has created a new agency, called the Office of Appraisal Services, to shield its realty specialists from political pressure.

"Mr. Wilkinson is trying to bring about accountability, not a guessing game," Meyer commented. "Without the disinfectant of sunlight this scandal will continue to fester."