Yurok Tribe Dispute with State over Coastal Access Entangled in Alleged Embezzlement

Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas O’Rourke at a protest against the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative in Fort Bragg on July 21, 2010 (photo: Dan Bacher)

California completed an 848-square-mile network of Marine Protected Areas (MPA) this month by opening its last link along the northern coast.

It was a bruising process, begun after passage of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) in 1999, to establish a patchwork of new marine sanctuaries in five regions from Mexico to the Oregon border. And one of those still smarting from the conflict is the Yurok Tribe, which argues that its traditional right to gather seaweed, mussels and fish is impaired by restrictions in the MPAs.

The tribe claims it was shut out of deliberations and decision making over the past five years, and is not alone in its criticism of the process. Some fishing groups see the MPAs as intrusive, confusing and a threat to commercial fishing. Some environmentalists see them as inadequate and a sellout to commercial interests. The MLPA initiative is a private/public partnership.

Dan Bacher, an environmental writer, calls the South Coast region “fake marine protected areas” that shield the ocean from fishing but fail to protect it from “oil spills and drilling, pollution, military testing, corporate aquaculture, wind and wave energy projects.”

The MLPA blue-ribbon task force that developed the marine plans was originally chaired by Susan Golding, ex-two-term San Diego mayor and former CEO of the Golding Group. She has sat on the boards of 1st Pacific Bank, Avinir Pharmaceuticals and Titan Industries. Others on the panel include Bill Anderson, president and CEO at the nation’s largest owner and operator of waterfront marinas, and Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, who has repeatedly called for weaker environmental regulations and new oil drilling off the California coast.

The MLPA also takes its share of flack from the sport fishermen and the political right. California Fish and Game Commissioner Daniel Richards, when he was commission president, said, “These radical, left-wing environmentalists want to put up massive reserves to keep people from fishing. It’s all being funded, this takeover of California’s marine resources, by the Packard Foundation, backed by a billionaire with nefarious intentions. They are anti-fishing, anti-hunting, anti-people.”

Early in 2012, the Yurok Tribe discovered it had another reason to be suspicious of MLPA motives. Arrest warrants were issued for three men, including the co-chair of the MLPA Task Force Science Advisory Team, who were suspected of conspiring to embezzle $870,000 from the tribe.

The money was meant for forestry research, but was siphoned off by a system of fake invoices, false purchase requests and electronic bank transfers over three years. Additional alleged embezzlement from the California Indian Forest and Fire Management Council brings the total to nearly $1 million.

Former Yurok Tribe Forestry Director Roland Leroy Raymond fled on February 23 after authorities served search warrants at his home. He was arrested by U.S. Marshals when he returned in April and was charged in August. Raymond was initially denied bail after U.S. Department of Justice assistant attorney Phil Kearney reportedly argued that Raymond was a flight risk, an active narcotics user and a gambler.

He was eventually freed in November on a $50,000 personal recognizance bond secured by signatures of his wife and mother. State charges against Raymond were dropped when the federal government took up the case.

Biologists Sean McAllister and Ron LeValley are accused of conspiring with Raymond to embezzle the money through the Mad River Biologists consortium, which LeValley founded. LeValley was co-chair of the MLPA Science Advisory Team in August 2010 when it reportedly turned down a request by the Yurok Tribe to make a presentation to the panel.

The two men are due back in Del Norte County Superior Court on January 8, 2013. Their case is still in the hands of state authorities.

The state prosecution of the three men was complicated by the personal problems afflicting Del Norte County District Attorney Jon Alexander, who is currently the subject of a California State Bar trial for corruption charges stemming from a $14,000 loan he gave a probation officer when he was a public defender and a $6,000 loan he received from a defense attorney.  

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California's Marine Reserve Network Now Complete (by Ken Weiss, Los Angeles Times)

Former Yurok Forestry Director Released from Jail; Raymond Accused of Embezzling Tribal Funds (by Megan Hansen, Eureka Times-Standard)

Former Yurok Forestry Director Pleads ‘Not Guilty’ to Embezzlement; Raymond Appears Monday in Eureka Federal Court (by Megan Hansen, Eureka Times-Standard)

Eureka Man Arrested for Embezzling Federal Funds from Indian Tribal Organizations (Federal Bureau of Investigation)

Spotted Owl Funds Reported Missing (by Tish Kraft, Courthouse News Service)

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