Nevada BLM Scandal
Picks Up Momentum
by Steve Miller
copyright © 1996, Electric Nevada
|Nevada's statewide federal land-swap scandal broadened this week as a confidential Inspector General audit was leaked to the press and Congressional hearings were scheduled for July.|
| First reported by Electric
Nevada last Sunday, the land-exchange
irregularities involve millions of dollars in
land-sale profits which in-state Bureau of Land
Management offices effectively diverted from taxpayers to
two favored private land-broker organizations.
"The taxpayers have been swindled out of $12 million," Congressman John Ensign, Nevada Republican told a Las Vegas news conference Friday, citing a figure from the audit.
He asked Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt Thursday to halt BLM land exchanges in Nevada until the controversial process has been investigated. Spokespersons for Babbitt indicated he would not stop the swaps.
Earlier in the week Ensign called for a congressional investigation, and Rep. Jim Hansen, R-UT, chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Lands, scheduled hearings for July.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal published elements of the leaked audit report, including auditors' conclusion that the BLM had shortchanged taxpayers at least $12 million in four Nevada land swaps.
"The BLM failed to obtain fair-market value for prime development acreage, traded land it should have sold, did not always used independent appraisals and ended up swapping for some land it did not need," wrote Review-Journal reporters Jane Ann Morrison and Keith Rogers, quoting the audit report.
"While the government lost millions of dollars, brokers who specialize in swaps made millions by obtaining federal land in the Las Vegas Valley and reselling it to investors or builders hungry to expand."
Federal auditors found, said Morrison and Rogers, "that Olympic Group Inc., an Arizona-based land development company, received land from the BLM and in three sales quickly resold it for $5 million more than the exchange value. Twice, land was resold the same day of the exchanges; a third parcel was sold within two months."
The I.G. auditors also found that the BLM in Nevada:
land it was exchanging; Lost at least another
$7.8 million by exchanging land it could have sold for
more under the Santini-Burton Land Act; Exchanged some of
the BLM's most valuable land for 2,461 acres the federal
government does not need, at a cost of $2.7 million.
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