Washington, DC — Lawyers for former Interior Deputy Secretary Steven Griles are arguing that the convicted felon should not serve any prison time but instead be sentenced to perform community service for a program funded by The Walt Disney Company and recreational industry lobbyists, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The industry consortium has already approved a slot for Griles in which he would fundraise, secure corporate partners and handle “communication…with government entities and the media.”
Griles pled guilty on March 23, 2007 to obstructing a congressional investigation, a felony that carries a maximum five-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine. Federal sentencing guidelines call for a prison term ranging from 10 to 16 months for a first conviction. As part of the plea bargain with Griles, the Justice Department is seeking only 5 months in prison and five months of community service.
In a June 8th filing, lawyers for Griles maintain, however, that he should do no prison time but instead serve three months of home confinement and perform 500 hours of community service. That community service would be split between a Disney-funded program called WOW for the “Wonderful Outdoor World” and a program providing college sports memorabilia to wounded Iraq war vets. Griles’ lawyers contend that part of the community benefit is WOW could not otherwise “afford to ‘hire’ the kind of expertise that Mr. Griles can provide.”
“Griles was convicted for hiding his connections to a ‘green scam’ organization that was a conduit for peddling corporate influence through the Interior Department and now he claims influence peddling is a service to the community,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, referring to Griles’ ties to Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, a group that funneled money from convicted Republican uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. “Who knew Mickey Mouse was running a halfway house?”
The WOW program was created in 2003 when several federal agencies, including the Interior Department, entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with The Walt Disney Company to “work together in partnership on issues of common interest and to jointly plan and implement mutually beneficial programs and activities.” Under the agreement, the federal agencies promise to cooperate with Disney, which describes itself as “a diversified international entertainment company…dedicated to integrating business needs with environmental values.” The parties pledge to “meet periodically to assess, plan, problem solve and implement strategies to improve the WOW…and WOW on The Water.”
“This WOW deal is sort of government-industry collaboration that leaves the public holding the bag,” Ruch added. “It is like the Defense Department agreeing to act for the benefit of Lockheed-Martin or the Education Department promising to promote the interests of the student loan industry.”
One of the more interesting arguments made by Griles’ lawyers is that sentencing him to prison “could deter others from testifying before Congress.” Griles says he testified before a committee chaired by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in order “to clear his name” of charges that he was, in the words of an Abramoff e-mail, “our guy” at Interior.