It seems the heat is picking up on John Gassett and the KDFWR. As many of you know from previous articles I told about ethics problems within the KDFWR and Commissioner John Gassett's side business primarily within SOUthern Wildlife. Well someone has stepped up and filed an ethics complaint and asked that criminal investigation be done if found necessary.
Thanks to Ballard Rogers something may finally be done. Read the complaint in its entirety below:
Dear Members of the Executive Ethics Commission:
Please let this letter serve as a request to investigate alleged KRS 11A ("Chapter 11A") ethical violations committed by various officials within the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources ("KDFWR"). Many of the allegations addressed below originated from known sources and/or individuals with direct personal knowledge of the events described. Some of the individuals providing information are employed within KDFWR and request anonymity out of fear of facing retaliation by their superiors. In fairness, some of the allegations described below are based on second-hand accounts and cannot be independently verified from the public record.
These unsubstantiated allegations need to be addressed by the appropriate governmental body with oversight and investigative powers.
Because some of these allegations address potentially criminal activity that may fall outside of the Ethics Commission’s ("EC") jurisdiction and require investigation or action by other governmental entities, copies of this letter are being sent to Governor Bershear, State Auditor Crit Luallen, Attorney General Jack Conway, and various interested member of the Legislative Review Commission.
For the sake of ease and simplicity, I have attempted to separate the various issues into numeric categories:
1. KDFWR Commissioner Jon Gassett’s Private Business Endeavors Clearly Conflict with his Official Public Duties
In 2007, while serving as the sitting Commissioner of KDFWR, Mr. Jon Gassett created a private wildlife consulting company, Southern Wildlife Resources, LLC ("SWR"). SWR is currently in "good standing" with the Kentucky Secretary of State’s office, and is registered to conduct business in Kentucky. In addition, Mr. Gassett is a licensed real estate broker in Kentucky, and is registered with the Kentucky Real Estate Commission as being affiliated with a Georgia Land Development company called Greenwood Land Company ("Greenwood").
I’m aware that Mr. Gassett requested two (2) ethics "Advisory Opinions" regarding his private companies (AO 07-22 and AO 09-8). The first opinion (AO 07-22), requested in 2007, addressed SWR, which he described as being a consulting business which performed the following: "advising on environmental permitting and compliance; providing technical guidance and implementation; assisting in public relations and professional support; advising in conservation real estate ventures; conducting research and surveys; and providing organizational planning". The website for SWR can be found here: https://southern-wildlife.com/Home_Page.html.
The second (AO 09-8) addressed his affiliation with Greenwood - a Georgia real estate brokerage company that buys, sells and leases hunting properties in a variety of states, including Kentucky. Mr. Gassett described Greenwood’s Kentucky business as complementary to and not in conflict with KDFWR’s business, because Greenwood’s interest "would be in conservation projects of a much smaller scale which would be more suitable for individual investors". Greenwood’s website is as follows: http://www.greenwoodland.com/.
Neither description provided by Mr. Gassett to the Ethics Commission mirrors the language found on their respective websites. In fact, Mr. Gassett’s vague descriptions, particularly of SWR, are so lacking in accurate, substantive content that they are arguably misleading.
Greenwood serves as a real estate broker for private investors, and its listed tracts in Kentucky currently range in size from 30 acres to 1500 acres. Greenwood touts its properties primarily for their outdoor (i.e. hunting & fishing) potential, as well as their general investment potential.
Mr. Gassett’s vague description to the Ethics Commission of the nature of SWR’s business stands in stark contrast to the array of services colorfully advertised on SWR’s website. SWR’s website offers the following "for profit" services to its clients: wildlife & fish surveys; wildlife management services, habitat assessment, prescribed fire services, pond enhancement, hunting land buying/selling, education & advocacy regarding various wildlife/regulatory matters, resource planning, strategic planning, and outdoor adventure services which includes providing referrals to hunting guides and outfitters.
The questions asked of the Ethics Commission in Mr. Gassett’s AO requests bore little relationship to the ethics provisions at issue. In other words, the requests completely missed the mark, and it’s possible that this was deliberate so as to receive a favorable AO. However, it is clear from both Advisory Opinions that Mr. Gassett’s private businesses were prohibited from engaging in the EXACT kinds of activities that the company’s offers.
After receiving AO 07-22, officials at KDFWR (presumably acting under Mr. Gassett’s orders) circulated an intra-departmental email to KDFWR employees explaining that Mr. Gassett was opening a private wildlife consulting firm (i.e. SWR). In this email, it was explained that Mr. Gassett had brought this new business to the attention of the Ethics Commission, and that SWR had received the EC’s stamp of imprimatur and approval. The email did not attach copies of AO 07-22 and did not expound upon the limitations imposed by the EC.
Thus, as far as Mr. Gassett’s subordinates at KDFWR were concerned, Mr. Gassett had formed a new wildlife consulting company with the implied blessing of the EC. Of course, this created a situation where his subordinates might have felt compelled to steer the public (who came to KDFWR for consulting advice) to their boss for their wildlife consulting needs. Further, it had the potential for improper "favoritism" for employees who did refer potential clients to Mr. Gassett over the employees who did not. In any event, the use of KDFWR work channels (i.e. KDFWR email) to internally advertise this new company is highly improper and demonstrates a colossal lack of judgment.
Among others, the following outlines the conflict of interest problems created by Mr. Gassett’s formation of SWR:
SWR Competes with KDFWR and Offers Identical Services
This issue requires almost no discussion. The AO 07-22 expressly warned that "in addition to the restrictions identified above, you should take care not to provide consulting services in matters that are a part of your official duty to provide" and that "you should not receive outside compensation for providing services that fall within the scope of your normal job duties." In complete disregard to this admonition, virtually every single service offered by SWR to its paying clients are services offered by KDFWR to members of the public for FREE. Through private land biologists, KDFWR offers wildlife management, habitat assessment, strategic wildlife planning, and pond enhancement services to the public. Even a cursory comparison between the KDFWR website and SWR confirms that the services offered are identical.
This presents an enormous conflict of interest. To only make matters worse, the KDFWR Commission members charged with Mr. Gassett’s oversight, not only knew about SWR, but also apparently endorsed it by allowing SWR to use various KDFWR photos of commission members (see pictures of Commissioners Orr and Hensley and former Commissioner Martin) on the "Wildlife Management" page of the SWR website. It is troubling that the Commission failed to even ask questions about the propriety of what is so obviously a conflict of interest.
On a slightly different note, both SWR and Greenwood openly advertise their land brokerage operations in Kentucky. Greenwood lists Mr. Gassett and one other individual as its licensed Kentucky brokers. SWR plainly asks potential customers whether they are "Interested in buying, selling or leasing hunting land in Kentucky"?
As the commissioner of KDFWR, Mr. Gassett is tasked with the responsibility of finding suitable land for public purchase, and his involvement with both of these companies clearly and directly conflicts with his commissioner duties. Mr. Gassett attempted to differentiate KDFWR and Greenwood’s clients in his AO 09-8 request by focusing on the size of the properties at issue. In falsely insinuating that their operations are "complementary", Mr. Gassett claimed that KDFWR is only interested in large parcels, while Greenwood’s clients are interested in smaller tracts.
However, the current Kentucky listings on Greewood’s site range in size all the way up to 1500 acres. It is noteworthy that several WMA’s owned by KDFWR are much smaller than 1500 acres, and regardless, the proximity of even very small tracts located adjacent to a WMA would make them of interest to the KDFWR.
SWR and Greenwood Operate in Kentucky
Mr. Gassett is aware that people are publicly questioning the ethical propriety of these private businesses, and he has publicly defended his actions by claiming that (a) the Ethics Commission has already determined that there are no ethical problems; and (b) SWR conducts no business in Kentucky. He has reiterated these points in at least two (2) recent meeting with League of Kentucky Sportsmen officials.
Neither statement was accurate. Obviously, the Ethics Committee has not, to my knowledge, ever determined the ethical propriety of any activity performed by SWR or Greenwood, and both Greenwood and SWR actively operate in Kentucky. Greenwood openly advertises its Kentucky land brokerage business. As noted above, SWR openly solicits customers who are interesting in "buying, selling or leasing hunting land in Kentucky." It’s also possible that Mr. Gassett then channels that business to Greenwood.
Furthermore, the Secretary of State’s Offices in adjacent states (specifically TN, IN, WV, OH, IL, and GA) all have websites that allow the public to run searches for companies authorized and/or are registered to conduct business in their states. SWR has never been registered to conduct business in any of those sister states. In fact, Kentucky appears to be the only state where SWR has been authorized to conduct business. In this regard, it’s also highly unlikely whether SWR has ever filed state tax returns in any state other than Kentucky.
c. SWR Uses Mr. Gassett’s Public Position to Promote his Private Business
In SWR’s "About Us" webpage, SWR touts Mr. Gassett’s experience as a "high level governmental policy maker in the wildlife conservation field" to attract potential customers, and explicitly details those "high level" positions a little further down the page in the section entitled "credentials": "ten years as a state fish and wildlife agency professional at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) including two years as Wildlife Program Coordinator (Big Game), four years as Wildlife Division Director, and four years as Commissioner." AO 07-22 specifically told him he was not allowed to do that.
In addition, the SWR advertises using photographs of the same individuals who are supposed to be maintaining oversight over his actions. In the "Wildlife Management" page, the second picture down contains a picture of current commission members Doug Hensley and Taylor Orr along with former commissioner Charlie Martin in a quail/pheasant harvest picture. As district commissioners, these gentlemen are required to insure that Mr. Gassett’s private companies stay in compliance with ethical requirements, not participate in ignoring them by allowing him to use their likeness for his own private gain.
Mr. Gassett Improperly Used Public Resources for Private Purposes
KDFWR Fish Shocking Boats: At least 2 different KDFWR employees who seek to remain anonymous have told officers from the League of Kentucky Sportsmen ("LKS") that they have seen Mr. Gassett using KDFWR owned boats with fish shocking equipment for private purposes, and that KDFWR has internally listing at least one boat as missing or stolen.
Mr. Gassett may be aware of these allegations, because on Saturday, February 6, 2010, he brought up without solicitation the fact that SWR had purchased a fish shocking boat. I would ask that Mr. Gassett be requested to furnish proof of purchase of his private boat and his boat registration certificates from 2007 to the present. In addition, I’d ask the ethics commission review KDFWR records to determine whether any fish shocking boats have been listing as "missing" or "stolen" at KDFWR in the last few years and determine whether those boats have mysteriously re-appeared in the last few months.
Use of Phone Issued by the Department for Private Business: The phone listed for SWR and Mr. Gassett (502 330 9025) as the "contact" number for SWR and Greenwood. It is my understanding that KDFWR issued a cell phone and this number to Mr. Gassett. If so, it would be improper for him to be conducting private and personal business with it.
Use of KDFWR Personnel to Design the SWR Webpage: Another rumor that has circulated is that Mr. Gassett used KDFWR employees to design his private company web page. Because some of the pictures appearing on the SWR website also appear on KDFWR’s website (e.g. the photograph of Mr. Gassett with a harvested turkey found on the KDFWR "Meet the Commissioner" webpage also appears on the SWR website), this adds some credence to the rumor. At a minimum, an investigation should be made into whether SWR made payments to an outside web designer (which is easily traceable by check or credit card) and/or if KDFWR web designers performed this service for Mr. Gassett’s private company.
Prescribed Fire Training:
SWR offers prescribed fire training and suggested methods to its clients. In addition to the fact that KDFWR also assists private landowners with this for free, it is my understanding that Mr. Gassett attended a multiple day course in New York in 2008 or 2009 to obtain prescribed fire certification. It is unclear who paid for that course, why Mr. Gassett, as KDFWR commissioner, would attend such a course, and/or if he took vacation time to attend this course.
I cannot fathom a reason why the Commissioner of KDFWR would need to be individually trained in prescribed fire burning given his job function. Certainly, other KDFWR biologists/foresters that would actually be working in the field would be much better candidates than Mr. Gassett to have attended this fire course. If KDFWR paid for Mr. Gassett to attend this course, I believe that this is wholly inappropriate. Mr. Gassett should not be allowed to exploit the use of public funds simply to pad his SWR resume for private gain with little or no resulting benefit to the public.
Guide / Outfitter Referrals
On SWR’s "Outdoor Adventure" tab, SWR offers to "do the homework" for its clients and "refer" them to reputable outfitters/guide services. This is a highly improper conflict of interest on its face, because the KDFWR regulates outfitters and guides, and unfairly injects KDFWR officials into that regulated field. Moreover, Mr. Gassett’s family members (Licking River Outfitters) and Deputy Commissioner (Hank Patton) engage in guide services, and this creates the potential that he referred clients to his own family and friends to the detriment of competing guide services under KDFWR’s authority.
Inappropriately Offering Private "Regulatory" Advice on matters in which KDFWR Participates
SWR also advertises that it offers extensive counseling on outdoors regulatory matters that affect private landowners in its "Education & Advocacy" program. It is absolutely galling that Mr. Gassett’s private company would advertise that as a service, given the role that KDFWR plays in a number of regulatory areas, such as "Stream & Wetlands Mitigation". It is also believed that KDFWR participates and/or has input into the regulation of logging/timber practices with various other state and federal agencies.
In addition, SWR offers "nuisance wildlife" eradication services. This is another field that is controlled and regulated by KDFWR.
Mr. Gassett’s public position as Commissioner of the agency tasked with regulating or participating in the regulation of various environmental compliance issues makes it wholly inappropriate for him to be privately counseling individuals in those matters. This is unethical on the public end and gives him an enormous competitive advantage over other companies performing similar services on the private end. Simply put, Mr. Gassett should not offer "consulting" services concerning matters in which KDFWR plays a role in regulating.
Mr. Gassett has used his real estate license to sell homes/property to his subordinates at KDFWR
Mr. Gassett has apparently gotten into the business of buying/reselling homes. It has been reported that he sold and/or brokered the sale of the home that was purchased by Wildlife Director, Karen Alexy. There have also been reports that Mr. Gassett has brokered real estate deals for other KDFWR subordinates. This is another conflict of interest.
Deputy Commissioner Hank Patton Ran a Turkey Guide Service and Advertised that Service on the Website of an Organization with which KDFWR had Contractual Relations
Despite being a Deputy Commissioner for KDFWR, Mr. Patton advertised his own turkey guide service called "Feet Down Outfitters" on the website for the National Wild Turkey Federation. Mr. Patton provided KDFWR phones/emails as his contact points. The phone number given was 1 800 852 1942, and the email was email@example.com.
Again, guide services are regulated by KDFWR, so it’s a conflict of interest to engage in private guide services, and the use of KDFWR phones/emails was clearly an improper use of public resources. Moreover, the NWTF has existing contracts with KDFWR, so Mr. Patton received an improper benefit by even advertising on that organization’s website.
After ethical questions were raised on a public forum, Mr. Patton removed the listing. However, I can provide hard or electronic copies of his advertisement as it existed before it was deleted.
Some unidentified individuals on public web forums have suggested that this listing was a mistake, and that Mr. Patton did not operate a "for profit" guide service after being hired at KDFWR. This explanation is questionable, because Mr. Patton had neither a KDFWR phone line nor a KDFWR email address until after he began working at KDFWR. Even then, if that information was mistakenly listed by somebody other than Mr. Patton on the NWTF website, Mr. Patton certainly took no corrective action when potential clients called or emailed him.
Abuse of Power/Retaliation
In numerous other instances, officials within KDFWR have abused their positions for their own benefit, and have improperly used pubic resources or Departmental power to punish people who express dissent.
a. Doug Hensley’s improper use of official power
This past fall, a retired school teacher from the Paducah area was drawn for a bull elk tag and spent time traveling to Eastern Kentucky to scout in preparation for his hunt. Apparently, he was drawn for Elk Hunting Unit that included Breathitt County, and specifically the area around the Van Booven WMA. After scouting, he planned on hunting on some private land owned by a coal company. This land was open to the public pursuant to a "Landowner Cooperator" agreement between the coal company and KDFWR. In exchange for its agreement to allow public access, KDFWR issued the coal company a free bull elk tag that could be used on the property.
The teacher decided to camp at his selected hunting spot the night before opening day, which would save time on his hunt the following day. He camped in a spot with a "public hunting" sign next to it. Some time that evening, two uniformed Conservation Officers from KDFWR approached the teacher and told that he couldn’t hunt in that area the next morning, because "Commissioner Hensley would be in there hunting with his guests". This person has not yet authorized me to use his name, but he has confirmed this story and said that he would be willing to swear to it under oath. It is believed that he also has the names of the Conservation Officers who illegally turned him away.
Another hunter was also lucky enough to be drawn for an elk tag in the statewide elk hunt lottery. Like the teacher discussed above, this hunter had also scouted the same area and decided to hunt there on opening day. Several hours before daybreak on opening morning, this gentleman began his drive into the area where he would begin his hunt. As he drove in, he saw a white truck parked on the edge of the road with a sticker on the side-panel reading "Lost Mountain Outfitters" ("LMO"). The LMO operation probably meant nothing to the hunter at the time, but I have learned that LMO has connections to KDFWR commissioners. LMO guided KDFWR commission members in past years, including the son of former commission member, David Godby. That elk hunt was filmed and later televised on KDFWR’s "Kentucky Afield" television show.
Unsure of the situation and probably trying to determine whether another hunter had simply gotten there ahead of him, the hunter stopped his truck. A few minutes two men got out of their truck and suggested to the hunter that he could not hunt in that area. Again, he was told it was because "Commissioner Doug Hensley is hunting there with his guests". The hunter ultimately decided that he would have to hunt elsewhere.
These men live miles apart and don’t know one another, but both tell the exact same remarkable story. I don’t think either has a bias or a motive to lie about what transpired. This is probably the most despicable and egregious abuses of power that can take place with respect to a KDFWR commissioner, and I believe that all the individuals involved should lose their positions because of it. Upon the Ethics Commission’s request, I will provide both names, but I don’t want to do so in this letter without the victims’ explicit permission, because they should not be subjected to any kind of retaliation.
b. Providing Federal DEA Agents with False Information
Several years ago, I criticized KDFWR for the way the crossbow season expansion was handled, and I participated on the Jim Strader radio show where I was critical of a survey that KDFWR conducted that cost the sportsmen $50,000. A few months after that issue was resolved, 3 federal DEA agents came to a farm of which I was a part-owner on the outskirts of Louisville.
This was followed-up with a helicopter fly-over.
The DEA agents said they had received a "tip" that we had been growing marijuana in our standing corn. There was no corn within 3 miles of our farm that year, and there certainly was no marijuana. The DEA agents searched the farm, which yielded no drugs and no corn. I subsequently asked where they had gotten this "tip", and I was referred to Major David Casey of KDFWR.
I called Maj. Casey and asked him the origins of his tip. He told me that it came from an "informant" that had given him tips in the past. I asked for the informant’s name and inquired as to what he was doing on our property. Maj. Casey declined to give me the name of his "informant", but said that his informant had been coon hunting on a farm across a road which is roughly a mile from our farm, and he found the marijuana while chasing his dogs that had apparently gotten loose. Major Casey said his informant provided precise directions to our farm.
This story was preposterous on a number of fronts, including the fact that the dog would have had to cross multiple farms and woven wired fences to even get to our property.
Not believing Major Casey’s story, I told him that I wanted to press trespassing charges against his informant, because he did not have permission to enter our property to retrieve his dogs. At that point, Major Casey changed his story and said that he didn’t know the name of the actual informant. He said that his contact "informant" had simply heard this story from a buddy of his who was a coon hunter.
It was obvious from all this that somebody at KDFWR wanted to teach me a lesson or send me a message. I certainly received it. Major Casey and anybody else who may have been involved with this should be investigated for giving false information to federal officers.
c. Retaliation Lawsuits and Alleged Misuse of Public Funds
KDFWR unnecessarily spends public money on legal fees and engages in scorched earth litigation with the intent of forcing the victims to drop their case or squander it all on their own legal fees. In this regard, KDFWR has a number of cases pending that have cost the sportsmen hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to prosecute/defend, and the purpose behind these tactics is not because it’s in the Department’s best interest, but rather to protect certain individuals within the Department. In the end, KDFWR has demonstrated time and again that it will spend substantial amounts of public money to "punish" KDFWR critics.
KDFWR and Mr. Gassett are currently defendants in a retaliation lawsuit brought by radio personality Jim Strader. It has been reported that the commission approved the payment of $100,000 for Mr. Gassett’s personal legal defense work, and the Department has hired its own outside counsel on the case. Mr. Strader’s lawsuit is a matter of public record and raises issues that impute ethical problems to specific individuals within the Department, including Mr. Gassett, and should be investigated.
At least some of Mr. Strader’s allegations contained in his lawsuit can be confirmed by KDFWR officials and/or commissioners, and should be investigated independently by the EC. For example and among others, Jon Gassett is alleged to have commented that he was going to spend $100,000 of KDFWR money to buy out Strader’s time slot on WHAS in order to get rid of him "once and for all". This comment was alleged to have been overhead by Commissioners Tony Brown and Dale Franklin.
In a different lawsuit involving a wages/hours dispute brought by former Conservation Officer Bob Marengo, KDFWR settled the lawsuit after squandering tens of thousands (and possibly hundreds of thousands) dollars of the Sportsmen and Women’s money. The strategy presumably was to force Mr. Marengo to spend all of his money on legal expenses. Shortly before trial, KDFWR settled the case with Mr. Marengo and apparently paid him his wages. As a condition of settlement, KDFWR asked that a "confidentiality" agreement be included. There is no reason why a public agency should be seeking to keep a settlement confidential unless it’s simply to avoid having light shed on its wasteful litigation practices.
For his part, Mr. Marengo told me personally that he never asked for nor wants the matter to be confidential. The circumstances regarding KDFWR’s settlement with Marengo should be investigated to justify why KDFWR spent so much money defending the lawsuit only to pay Mr. Marengo what he was owed.
In another strikingly similar case, KDFWR is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with former conservation officer Joby Gassett. KDFWR lost that case before the administrative officer, and lost it again on appeal. Now, KDFWR is appealing the case in the court system, and spending enormous sums of money on a case it will lose in the end. More disturbing is the fact that KDFWR solicited several prosecutors in an effort to bring criminal charges against Mr. Gossett.
At least 3 prosecutors expressly declined to bring the charges sought by KDFWR. However, a personal friend of a high-ranking officer within F&W agreed to charge Mr. Gossett. Those criminal charges are now the subject of a Motion to Dismiss.
The abuse of power is not limited to Mr. Hensley. For many years, commissioners would travel to duck hunt at the Ballard County WMA. Under the rules set up for the WMA, the public was supposed to be assigned blinds after a random draw. Numerous complaints transpired where KDFWR commissioners and others were not required to participate in the public draw. They were simply escorted to the best blinds with the most waterfowl, while the rest of the average people simply got whatever blinds were left. More recently, there have been reports that there are blinds available at Ballard County WMA that have not been made available to the public.
These blinds are saved for Department insiders and friends, and the public is excluded.
d. KDFWR Designed the Elk Program to Benefit Commissioners and Insiders
Kentucky reintroduced elk into Eastern Kentucky approximately 10 years ago and a hunting season was subsequently initiated which was available to the public through a "random" draw. In the beginning only a handful of elk tags were available to the public, although this number has increased as the herd expanded. Even now, the chances of publicly drawing an elk tag are very remote.
However, through the commission, KDFWR adopted regulations which allowed additional elk tags to be issued to "cooperating" landowners or lessees that control at least 5000 acres of private land and agree to allow public access on the land for hunting.
What was never disclosed by any commissioner before voting on this regulation or thereafter was that the commissioners themselves would personally benefit from this arrangement, because they (or family members or their companies) owned/controlled much of the land that would be entered into the landowner cooperator program and that the commissioners themselves would be in control of multiple elk tags. The KDFWR minutes reflect that during the discussion preceding the vote on the landowner cooperator permits, Mr. Hensley amended the regulation to reduce the amount of land needed to qualify from 10,000 acres to 5,000 acres.
This simply increased the number of landowner cooperator bull elk tags that would be available to the commissioners and their friends, and none of it was based on need or science. There were also explicit denials by KDFWR officials during the meeting and before the vote that these landowner permits would extend to hunting leases. However, when the regulations were drafted and submitted, lessees of qualifying lands were eligible to receive landowner tags. At a minimum, this unexpected change in the regulations benefitted Jon Gassett’s father, who operated "Licking River Outfitters" and leased elk hunting land in the elk zone. It is also possible that the inclusion of lessees to the language also benefitted individual commissioners.
In 2008, Taylor Orr openly admitted to numerous individuals that he held 12 elk tags obtained through the landowner cooperator regulations. It has also been reported that Doug Hensley and former commissioner Tom Baker also received multiple elk tags in past years. It is also believed that Jon Gassett’s father leased up enough land
At bottom, a member of the public that wants to hunt elk has a small fraction of a chance to be drawn for an elk permit. However, the KDFWR commissioners that are regulating the elk hunting seasons have created a system whereby they and their family and friends enjoy multiple elk tags each and every year. The transparently self-serving nature of this entire scenario is inherently wrong, and these abusive practices need to end.
There are also questions as to whether the elk draw conducted by KDFWR as in fact "random". Over the years, numerous family members, relatives and friends of District Commissioners and Department "insiders" have drawn elk tags through the elk draw lottery. In 2007 when Taylor Orr joined the Commission, his father bought an elk tag at a RMEF auction. That same year, Taylor Orr’s son, Matt, coincidentally drew an elk tag. It’s also been reported that a "friend" of the Department purchased a bull elk tag from the RMEF, and his daughter and wife both drew elk tags that same year. It’s also been reported that two relatives of Doug Hensley (also named Hensley) from the Carolinas both drew out-of-state elk tags in the same year. Jon Gassett’s father has also been drawn for elk. In contrast, I cannot give the name of any individual that has criticized the Department that has EVER been drawn for an elk tag in any year.
Since complaints surfaced about alleged rigging of the elk draws, KDFWR stopped publishing the names of people that have drawn elk tags. They also have stopped publishing telecheck review data for past years that lists the names of successful hunters. It’s entirely possible that KDFWR simply doesn’t want people to have the information at their disposal to question how and why so many KDFWR insiders keep getting gso "lucky" at drawing elk tags.
I would request that the Ethics Commission review the following data. First, I would ask the Commission to get a list of the people that paid their $10 to enter into the KDFWR elk lottery. I would then ask the EC to compare that list against the names entered into the elk draw lottery computer program to insure that nobody was left off. I then would ask the EC to have a computer analyst look at the raw computer data to insure that the computer-generated elk lottery winners were the same folks that received the tags. To the extent that inconsistencies are found which compromise the integrity of the random draw, it not only has criminal implications, but it could also expose KDFWR to a very expensive class-action lawsuit by people who weren’t drawn.
e. Retaliation against the League of Ky Sportsmen ("LKS")
The LKS is the oldest and largest statewide organization of sportsmen/conservationists. When the LKS became critical of some of the practices and policies being employed at KDFWR, KDFWR responded by stripping away benefits from the LKS that the Department routinely offers to conservation groups.
Historically, KDFWR and the LKS were very supportive of one another. To help foster interest in the outdoors and to support the sportsmen of the state, KDFWR agreed to give LKS members annual subscriptions to the "Kentucky Afield" magazine. This was a mutually beneficial arrangement that went on for nearly 50 years, because it helped the LKS draw members and it exposed KDFWR to the sportsmen of the state.
However, in recent years, once the LKS began questioning how the Department was spending the sportsmen’s dollars, KDFWR suddenly refused to provide any more magazines to League members. At first, KDFWR claimed it was a money issue, but Jon Gassett later admitted to Rep. Tommy Turner, LKS President and former LKS President Ronnie Wells that it was wasn’t about money at all but because KDFWR officials were angry with the LKS and wanted to punish it. In other words, it had nothing to do with KDFWR’s mission, it had to do with individual vendettas.
KDFWR also gives "commissioner’s tags" for deer, turkey and elk to conservation organizations that apply for them. The organizations then auction off these tags to raise revenue. Elk tags can bring as much as $20,000 at charity auctions. Deer tags generally sell for $1000 - $1500, and turkey tags will bring in $250. In the past, the LKS received tags on the same or greater level as other groups simply by virtue of its clout.
For the last several years, KDFWR has declined to give elk tags to the LKS. Before the vote was even made regarding the tags this year, Doug Hensley laughingly questioned whether any of the tags should go to the LKS. This year, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will receive four (4) of the 10 tags given away by the commission. The commission also gave two (2) to the NWTF. Two of the tags given to the RMEF and the NWTF were given to the national organizations which aren’t even located in Kentucky. Several members of the commission and upper echelon of KDFWR were officers of those organizations (NWTF and RMEF) before they came to KDFWR.
The commission’s decision to punish the LKS was not based on any agency purpose. It was simply to hurt it financially as a deterrent to dissent. Changes are much needed within KDFWR.
f. KDFWR Enforces its Regulations Disparately
Commissioner Taylor Orr shot a bull elk out of season, and news of this event leaked into the public realm. With other similar violations, KDFWR actively prosecuted and sought jail sentences for the offenders. In Mr. Orr’s case, KDFWR tried to "hide" the violation by issuing him in a different county where Mr. Orr and where the elk was shot, and made his citation pre-payable. This is just another example of how KDFWR gives preferential treatment to "insiders".
g. KDFWR Unlawfully Engages in Political Activity
In violation of Chap. 11A and Chap. 150 of the KRS, KDFWR regularly uses agency employees to engage in political activity.
When SB 129 (which would have moved cervid ranching jurisdiction to the Dept. of Agriculture) was pending before the legislature, KDFWR organized its employees and had literally dozens of paid employees attend a protest that was dubbed "Orange Day". A picture of the number of uniformed Department employees working at this political event can be found at this link: http://hcfsclub.com/Club%20Pictures.htm. It was also reported that KDFWR employees were required to hand-out anti-SB 129 fliers at local Wal-Marts and sporting goods stores. Many sportsmen opposed this legislation (myself included), but it is not KDFWR’s role to organize and participate in political rallies intended to defeat a pending bill.
More recently when the LKS sent its resolution to the legislature requesting an audit and other measures, KDFWR had high-ranking officers call and/or meet with the responsible LKS officials and urge them to rescind that measure. KDFWR Wildlife Director, Karen Alexy, called LKS President Rick Allen and implicitly threatened him with the question of whether he "really wanted to go down this road". Visits or phone calls from KDFWR were made to at least 5 other
LKS Directors with similar messages.
Lastly, KDFWR unlawfully prevents its conservation officers and other employees from making negative comments about Department policies or high-ranking officials in violation of their 1st Amendment rights. In an email dated August 1, 2007, Capt. Tim Catron of KDFWR circulated an email to various CO’s advising them that Taylor Orr was to be appointed the new 9th District commissioner. Mr. Orr’s appointment was opposed by some because of his elk poaching conviction (discussed above), so this was a controversial subject. Mr. Catron advised the CO’s as follows, and this is a direct quote: "Commissioner Gassett has sent a direct order thru Col. Milligan that no one is to make any negative comments about our commissioner. If anyone has any questions about this appointment you are to refer them to Comm. Gassett’s office. He will address anyone’s questions on this appointment. Action will be taken against anyone going against this order so if you have any negative thoughts make sure you keep them to yourself. Lets all help Mr. Orr anyway we can." I have hard copies of this email.
This email reflects the mentality that exists in the upper circles of KDFWR, and it makes it easy to see why KDFWR employees fear retaliation for questioning KDFWR policies.
h. KDFWR Seeks to Avoid an Audit Because of Admitted Illegalities
KDFWR receives grant money from various federal sources with respect to some of its projects.
One particular grant comes from the U.S. Coast Guard to help KDFWR defray the costs of its water patrol program on the public waterways. Shortly after Colonel Milligan joined KDFWR, he met with a few CO’s at a firing range in London, Kentucky. I have been told by 2 different CO’s that were present that Col. Milligan stated that he was "glad my name’s not on any of that water patrol stuff, because that’s the kind of thing that will land somebody in front of a federal grand jury." This statement obviously suggests that somebody at KDFWR was knowingly and deliberately presenting false figures to the Coast Guard to increase the grant money.
A similar episode took place in the past month after the LKS sent the legislature its audit request resolution. A KDFWR captain contacted the 1st District Federation Director and expressly told him that if an audit was performed, KDFWR would lose a bunch of its Coast Guard water patrol funding.
i. KDFWR’s Finances are not transparent
KDFWR’s published budget does not accurately reflect where the agency is spending F&W money. In its 2004 budget, for example, approximately $40,000-$50,000 was allocated to be spent at the Paintsville WMA. However, it was widely known that the only money spent at that WMA was to plant a 2 acre dove field, which probably cost less than $1000. This led to questions about what happened to the rest of the budgeted money. As representatives of the sportsmen through the LKS, Ronnie Wells and Marques Rogers asked KDFWR precisely that question. If it wasn’t being using at Paintsville WMA, how was the Department spending the money?
KDFWR was either unable or unwilling to provide that information, and Wells and Rogers were informed that the Department was not required to provide an accounting of its expenditures.
After this episode, KDFWR stopped itemizing its expenses for individual WMA’s and instead began grouping its spending according by "regions".
This is just one example among many where the LKS or others have been stonewalled in their efforts to obtain information about KDFWR’s finances to know exactly where the Department is spending the sportsmen’s dollars. When a public agency issues a budget saying that it will spend thousands of dollars on Project "X", and Project "X" actually only costs hundreds of dollars, the agency needs to have some level of transparency so that the public knows where that budgeted money is re-allocated. The fact that KDFWR is unwilling to answer those questions just screams for the need for an audit.
j. KDFWR’s Enters into Contracts for the Benefit of Family Members of KDFWR High-Ranking Officials
KDFWR Commission meeting minutes from 2007 reflect that KDFWR contracted a TV station in Paducah (WPSD) to air the "Kentucky Afield" show for a year. The costs for this were listed as being $33,150. The same minutes reflect that a similar contract was entered into with a Hazard TV station (WYMT) for $60,000. The disparity in costs, especially considering that Hazard was a much smaller market that Paducah, immediately raised red flags. At no time did Mr. Hensley or any other person at KDFWR mention the fact that Doug Hensley’s son, Steve, worked for WYMT. There was also no indication as to whether KDFWR even bothered to shop around for a better price at any other station. Given the circumstances, the only logical conclusion is that KDFWR entered into an exorbitantly wasteful contract with WYMT in Hazard for the benefit of one of the commissioner’s sons.
KDFWR’s willingness to help relatives and friends of KDFWR high-ranking officials extends in other areas. Several Department sources have confirmed that KDFWR has contracted with Jimmy Miller, a good friend of Deputy Commissioner Hank Patton, to perform radio repairs. It is not known how much KDFWR pays Mr. Miller for his "radio repair work", but those sources say that Mr. Miller works at a building owned by KDFWR. In addition, KDFWR has apparently also created a new job position paying $50,000 to maintain a facebook and twitter account for its Kentucky Afield show host and KDFWR. Are these expenses really necessary or in KDFWR’s best interests? They need to be investigated to determine whether they are simply ways that high-ranking KDFWR officials are using Department money to help their fellow insiders.
Based on the foregoing, I would ask the Ethics Department to investigate all the allegations contained herein, and request that an independent and comprehensive audit be conducted on KDFWR.
I would be happy to submit whatever materials or information that the Ethics Commission desires or needs.
B. Ballard Rogers
5026 Wolf Pen Woods Dr.
Prospect, KY 40059
Phone: 502 640 3535
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