Too much public participation
BLM in Northern Nevada Sends Agent
To Investigate Eureka County Officials

by Steve Miller
copyright (c) 1997, Electric Nevada

Bureau of Land Management administrators in northern Nevada last year, irate at some Eureka County officials, assigned a BLM "special agent" to investigate them for felony mail fraud, Electric Nevada has learned.
Behind the BLM bureaucrats' ire was a reported deluge of requests for public information on grazing allotments. Those requests precipitated "a tremendous administrative work load on our range staff," according to one BLM staffer.
Most of the requests -- estimates of their number range as high as 400 and as low as 150 -- came into BLM offices in Elko and Battle Mountain in a form letter request. Originally prepared by members of the Eureka County Public Land Use Advisory Council and Eureka County Resource Manager John Balliette, the letter was distributed around Eureka at a series of public meetings in the fall of 1995, following the promulgation of the Clinton Administration's "Rangeland Reform" regulations.
The letter had two versions, one for each of the two BLM district offices that manage grazing in Eureka County: Battle Mountain and Elko. Both versions asked that the person signing it be listed as an "interested public" who wished "to be involved in the decision making processes on grazing allotments in Eureka County."
"Interested public" had been a change inserted into BLM regulations just two



months earlier by U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, as part of what the Clinton Administration called "Rangeland Reform '94."
Prior to the rule change, BLM administrators routinely sent notifications of contemplated bureau actions only to individuals with "affected interests." But Babbitt's new regulations meant that anyone who asked to be kept informed on all specified public land matters, had to be so notified.
At the time of Babbitt's rule change, it was widely understood to be an effort to reduce the historical primacy ranchers have had in the use of western lands administered by the BLM. But it soon became evident that the Interior Secretary's plan had a fatal flaw.
The nature of that flaw became clear when the Eureka County form letter continued: "Specific allotments I have an interest in are," and then proceeded to list about two dozen specific different specific allotments in Eureka County.
"I am interested in grazing, wildlife, wild horses, recreation, minerals and all other issues that affect these allotments,"


 
the letter went on. "I also want to be included on all mailing lists so that I am kept aware of future decisions and have the opportunity to comment on proposed actions."
According to a May, 1996 statement submitted in the BLM investigation by range management specialist Matt Spaulding, the Battle Mountain District Office received an "overwhelming" number of interested-public requests from Eureka County.
"Our entire staff was trying to figure out how we would manage the increase in paper work," Spaulding said he told PLUAC chairman Jim Bauman and Eureka County Resource Manager Balliette in November of 1995, after complimenting them "on their creativity."
Spaulding also said he again complimented Balliette on January 18, 1996 in a meeting at the Battle Mountain district office "regarding the still increasing Interested Public requests we had been receiving.
"I told him it was creating a tremendous administrative work load on our range staff, and we still hadn't perfected a way to deal with all the requests."
According to documents obtained by Electric Nevada, the BLM investigation of "possible mail fraud" began March 22, 1996, when the acting associate director of the BLM's Elko district




office's renewable resources division, Ray Lister, officially advised BLM Special Agent Frank Castrogiovanni that "some" Eureka County individuals "may" have submitted falsely signed form letters.
Seven months later, Castrogiovanni recommended the inquiry be closed, saying he had been able to identify only three requests that conceivably could have been false.
In one case, an informational notice mailed out by the Elko district office had been returned by the post office with the individual's name on the envelope marked "deceased."
In the second case, an elderly Eureka gentleman who had recently moved to Elko asked on March 14, 1996 to be removed from the Battle Mountain mailing list for the Shoshone-Eureka Resource Area. He was quoted as saying he had never requested the notifications.
In the third case, a rancher called the Elko office from New Mexico on April 9, 1996 and asked for his name to be taken off the list.
According to Castrogiovanni's report, the rancher said he "doesn't remember how his name got on the mailing list; probably signed his name on something, and would like to have his name be taken off the list." Yet there did appear to be a distinct difference between signatures on the original


 
request forms bearing the rancher's name and the signature on the rancher's own handwritten note asking that the Elko office take him off the mailing list.
Electric Nevada sought to speak with Castrogiovanni at the BLM's Elko district office, but was informed he had resigned from the federal agency. According to a source in the office, the special agent had asked the BLM to post him to the East Coast where Castrogiovanni's mother resides and has a chronic illness. When he was unable to achieve that posting, said the source, the agent quit the BLM to take a position in the Washington, D. C. offices of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Though calls to Washington reached Castrogiovanni's new office, the former BLM agent was not available Friday for comment.
Electric Nevada had wanted to ask Castrogiovanni about an extended discrepancy between his report and




documents upon which it evidently was based. Large sections of a two-page memorandum written by Battle Mountain range specialist Spaulding and addressed to both that office's acting associate director for renewable resources, Jeff Weeks, and Castrogiovanni, were attributed in the agent's report, not to Spaulding but to Weeks.
In his memo, Spaulding said on both of the instances when he "complimented" Balliette and others on the "creativity" demonstrated by the interested-public campaign, "they ... laughed and remarked that they were accomplishing what they set out to do."
"I asked them what that was and Mr. Balliette said to tie us up in paper work so we couldn't do field work."
The occasion of the remark, according to Spaulding, was a joint BLM-Eureka County outing on Cottonwood Creek in the Black Point Allotment, where an interdisciplinary


 
team was completing stream survey studies.
The second instance asserted by Spaulding was one he said occurred with Balliette alone and no other witnesses. In Spaulding's account, which Balliette characterized as very distorted, the Eureka County resource manager repeatedly responded well to




compliments from Spaulding about creating "a tremendous administrative work load" for the BLM offices.
"He laughed and said he was happy to see it was working," according to the BLM employee.


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