Washington, DC — One of the very last authentic Indian traders was put out of business by a misguided and inept National Park Service (NPS) investigation, but the attempt to right the wrongs has stalled in years of bureaucratic foot-dragging, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Today PEER filed a federal lawsuit against the Interior Department Office of Inspector General (IG) under the Freedom of Information Act to force it to release its long-completed report into the fiasco.
Billy Malone was one of the last of the real Indian Traders formerly employed by Western National Parks Association (WNPA) as the resident trader at Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site in Ganado, Arizona. Indian traders are a vanishing tradition of the Old West, and the national historic site at Hubbell Trading Post was a congressionally-mandated effort to keep that tradition alive.
By all accounts, Malone was one of the most experienced and trusted Indian traders on the Navajo Reservation, renowned for commitment to old-time trading ways that had long been encouraged by the National Park Service and even former WNPA officials. But he got crosswise with Jim Babbitt, brother of a former Interior Secretary and then chair of the WNPA board. The Association sparked a formal Park Service probe when it claimed large losses attributable to an alleged embezzlement scheme by Malone. The assigned NPS Special Agent, Clyde Yee, bungled the job, failing to assess if a theft had even occurred, and compounded matters by using false information to support a search warrant and then seizing from Malone a life-savings in personal property not even listed in the warrant.
Malone was fired and kicked out of his home but no charges were ever brought against him. After a year and a half, another Special Agent was brought in to take over the investigation, uncovering glaring defects in the earlier investigation, including the concealment of exculpatory evidence and finding the losses claimed by WNPA were likely the result of their own accounting errors. Since high-level NPS officials were also implicated in the misconduct and cover-up, this re-investigation was taken over by a special unit of the Office of Inspector General in November 2006. That report was completed in 2008 but never released.
On August 27, 2009, Billy Malone filed a wide-ranging civil lawsuit in federal district court in Arizona against individual current and former Park Service employees, two government attorneys, and the Western National Parks Assn. and its top officials, including Babbitt. The suit alleges violation of constitutional rights, defamation and conspiracy and asks for punitive damages as well.
Meanwhile, for the last three months, PEER has attempted in vain to obtain the same IG report exonerating Malone and castigating the actions that led to his ouster. Today, PEER filed a separate lawsuit to force its disclosure.
“The Inspector General is supposed to be part of the solution to government malfeasance but in this case the IG is part of the problem,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization has two other Freedom of Information Act lawsuits pending against the Interior IG. “President Obama promised his administration would act with renewed transparency, but this IG apparently never got that memo.”