Dan Berman at Greenwire broke an important story yesterday regarding former Interior Department official Steven Griles, who plead guilty earlier this year in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Griles has asked the Judge (pdf) in his case that he be allowed to perform “community service” as a part of his sentence. The problem is, one of the two organizations with which he wants to do community service – the American Recreation Coalition (ARC) -- is actually a heavy-hitter lobby organization which apparently benefited from Griles’ time at Interior.
Environmentalists have complained about Griles’ coziness with organizations like ARC, which advocates the use of snowmobiles in national parks. Here’s Griles speaking at an event of the organization and here he is again partying up with ARC and some other industry buddies. With Griles’ proposed sentence, he’ll probably be back on the party circuit with his industry buddies. Is this really punishment?
Read the full Greenwire story, reprinted with their permission, below the fold.
-- Beth Daley
ETHICS: Griles seeks community service with motorized-recreation group
Dan Berman, Greenwire senior reporter
An organization with connections to the Interior Department, motorized recreation industry and the Walt Disney Co. is holding a position open for former Interior Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles if he's sentenced to community service for lying to Congress in the Jack Abramoff investigation.
Griles, 59, wants three months home confinement, 500 hours of community service and a "reasonable" $15,000 fine when he is sentenced June 26. Half the community service would be with "WOW - Wonderful Outdoor World," in the position of national counselor and strategic planning coordinator. In that post, Griles would raise money, develop new public and private partnerships and conduct outreach to the government and media.
The request was part of a voluminous filing with Judge Ellen Huvelle of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The package includes 91 letters supporting Griles from former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, two Reagan-era secretaries, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (R), Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.), coal industry executives and a possible Senate nominee from Wyoming, among others.
"It's a small world after all," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "The idea that Steve Griles would consider this community service suggests the line in his mind of corporate service and community service doesn't exist."
The other half of Griles' community service would be with Operation Coaches and Warriors, which assists injured veterans of the Iraq war.
"A prison sentence is not needed to punish Mr. Griles and ensure that his crime will never be repeated," Griles' statement reads. "The prospects of resulting public service after this conviction are dim if not nonexistent. It is equally unlikely that Mr. Griles will ever be able to pursue a career as a lobbyist as he has been convicted of obstructing the same body he would be lobbying for clients."
In March, Griles pleaded guilty to withholding information from the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in 2005 about his meeting Abramoff through Italia Federici, president of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy. Griles was dating Federici at the time (Greenwire, March 23).
The felony charge could land Griles in prison for a maximum five years and carry a $250,000 fine. Justice Department attorneys recommended a 10-month sentence. Half of that would be served in a federal prison, according to DOJ's nonbinding recommendation to the court.
WOW agreement with Interior
If the sentence recommendation is accepted, Griles would work for an organization with close ties to the Interior Department.
In 2003, Interior, U.S. EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the American Recreation Coalition and Disney signed a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to "work together in partnership on issues of common interest and to jointly plan and implement mutually beneficial programs and activities."
As deputy secretary at the time, Griles directly oversaw the four Interior agencies who signed the document.
The National Park Service is a current sponsor of Wonderful Outdoor World, as are the Forest Service, Disney, the Coleman Co. and others, but WOW is spearheaded by the American Recreation Coalition, an organization that promotes access for recreation on public lands.
In a letter to Judge Huvelle, Derrick Crandall, the longtime head of the American Recreation Coalition, said Griles has already assisted in developing ways to "dramatically augment WOW beginning this summer."
Crandall also noted he worked with Griles on expanding the mission of the Bureau of Land Management, "supporting both recreation and wildlife programs," and on expanding the Take Pride in America program.
According to Griles' statement with the court, WOW is seeking to expand its operations and program offerings and needs a man such as the former deputy Interior secretary. "WOW needs an individual with Mr. Griles' management expertise and knowledge of the outdoors," the statement says.
WOW is seeking a candidate who could raise at least $500,000 in contributions -- either in-kind or in cash, according to court documents.
"Unlike other camping and recreation programs, WOW brings the wonders and excitement of camping and the environment directly into the neighborhoods and communities of the children most in need," according to Disney's Web site. "This innovative new approach provides young people with the basic skills and encouragement to enjoy further outdoor experiences."
In developing his sentence, Griles asks Huvelle to, "consider his 24 years of public service, his longstanding and demonstrated commitment to volunteerism and the community, and his reputation for integrity and honesty."
Prison time may also deter others from testifying before Congress and cooperating with the legislative branch, Griles argues, noting fears of being embarrassed or ambushed under the media glare. For instance, Indian Affairs Committee staff withheld documents from him before he testified in November 2005, Griles argues, limiting his ability to prepare and refresh his memory of various events.
"I can't believe a judge will look at this and say, 'Oh, what a great idea,'" said Beth Daley of Project on Government Oversight. "He's basically going back to being a lobbyist for his community."
Letters of support
The 91 letters supporting Griles reflect his friendships and contacts made through an extensive career in government and industry, including three former Interior secretaries and a litany of senior former government officials and industry executives.
"The reality of Steve Griles is in many ways different from the public perception," wrote former Interior Secretary Gale Norton. "His powerful size and bearing seem intimidating, but those who know him realize he is a compassionate and caring person. He helped co-workers who were struggling. He was encouraging and upbeat when people got discouraged."
Norton noted she and Griles had a very positive working relationship while at Interior. "Many men would have difficulty working with a woman as a superior, especially a woman he had once outranked," Norton wrote. "Steve instead was supportive and encouraging. We had one of the best, if not the best, working relationships of any secretary and deputy secretary in the administration" (emphasis original).
Several writers noted Griles sacrificed higher pay in the private sector to return to Interior in 2001 as Norton's deputy and noted his insistence on reimbursing costs for dinners, drinks or entertainment so as not to allow an appearance of impropriety.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (R) wrote about riding horses with Griles in Idaho and Washington's Rock Creek Park. "We have shared many trails, and I have come to recognize that he is a genuine man who is proud of his service to the people of our nation," Otter wrote.
Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.) noted Griles' help on coal miners health legislation and reauthorization of the abandoned mine lands program last year. "His voice now strains under the sorrow and regret he bears for his infraction. I believe a sentence of community service will benefit this nation much more than will his imprisonment."
Tom Sansonetti, former assistant attorney general for the environment and natural resources division, and a rumored nominee to replace the late Wyoming Republican Sen. Craig Thomas, also supports Griles.
"Steve is the consummate public servant," Sansonetti wrote. "He took on huge, complicated, and often unpopular, tasks for Secretary Norton within the Interior building, such as the complex and high-profiled Cobell case involving the management of Indian Trust Fund monies."
Sansonetti's successor was Sue Ellen Wooldridge, who married Griles on March 26. Wooldridge resigned in January amid news reports she purchased a South Carolina vacation home with Griles and a ConocoPhillips lobbyist, months before DOJ and the company agreed to settle charges it violated the Clean Air Act.
Among the other 91 requests for leniency include letters from Reagan-era Interior secretaries Don Hodel and William Clark; Craig Manson, former assistant Interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks; Dan Kish, senior adviser to House Natural Resources Committee ranking member Don Young (R-Alaska); Bill Horn, a Reagan-era assistant Interior secretary and lobbyist; former U.S. EPA acting Administrator Marianne Horinko; Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works John Paul Woodley; James Cason, Interior associate deputy secretary; Ann Klee, former U.S. EPA general counsel and former counselor to Norton; Bennett Raley, former assistant Interior secretary for water and science; and Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
"It is worth noting that in a city where supporters of persons touched by political scandal scurry away, dozens and dozens of Mr. Griles' supporters from throughout his life have come forward to ensure that the court has an accurate and full view of who Mr. Griles really is," Griles' statement reads.
Click here to view Griles' sentencing request.
Click here to view Rep. Barbara Cubin's letter.
Click here to view Gov. Butch Otter's letter.
Click here to view Gale Norton's letter.
Click here to view Tom Sansonetti's letter.
Click here to view Derrick Crandall's letter.
Click here to view the 2003 memorandum of understanding between the federal government, Disney and ARC.