NDOW Employees "Above Criticism"
State Conservation Director Morros
Threatens to Sue Elko Grand Jury

Elko Daily Free Press

Pete Morros, director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Friday threatened to sue Elko County and the Elko County Grand Jury unless the grand jury withdraws a presentment claiming criminal acts by state and federal officials and apologizes to the officials named in the report.
In the first statement since the Feb. 13 grand jury report claiming officials illegally used their offices to force Independence Mining Co. to pay $500,000 in mule deer habitat mitigation, Morros said Elko County is on a "witch hunt."
"In the absence of a withdrawal of this presentment and an apology to the affected employees of this department, the state will have no choice but to seek judicial relief from this illegal act by Elko County,
Morros says in a written statement delivered before the Advisory Board of Natural Resources meeting in Reno. "What we do not accept is the intentional malicious and criminally abusive behavior of the grand jury in falsely accusing and slandering field and line personnel in our agency in the interests of pursuing their `home rule' witch hunt."
Morros said the grand jury was stacked and the report is part of a ploy by county officials to control public lands in a continuing "Sagebrush Rebellion."
Morros said his employees are above reproach and his only criticism is that they let IMC "off the hook'' and should have sought $1.5 million in mitigation fees instead.
Until now, Morros said, "I have



kept my powder dry.'' But he said he's angry the grand jury said state and federal officials were guilty of the crime of oppression under the color of office, a gross misdemeanor.
The grand jury named Nevada Division of Wildlife Director Willie Molini and other NDOW employees, Duane Erikson, Larry Barngrover and Kenneth Grey, and U.S. Forest Service employees Ben Siminoe and John Inman as violating the law, a violation which could not be indicted by the grand jury because the crimes occurred outside the two-year statute of limitations.
Elko County District Attorney Gary Woodbury, who assists the grand jury in its investigations, was at the meeting and unavailable to respond to Morros' accusations.
Elko County Commission Chairman Royce Hackworth said he would be glad to meet Morros in a court of law.
"Let them sue," Hackworth said.
Hackworth said the Morros- Molini partnership has led to the current state of wildlife in Nevada and to Nevadans' ill feelings concerning NDOW.
"As has been proven in the past,


 
Mr. Morros' and Mr. Molini's relationship has put a very dark cloud over all the state employees,
Hackworth said. "There are serious problems with Morros' and Molini's policies and they [NDOW] were untouchable by past legislators, directors and other elected state officials.
Hackworth said Morros obviously does not understand the workings of a grand jury, which are done in secret without any outside influences.
"We do not direct the actions of the grand jury," Hackworth said.
Hackworth said the grand jury was convened by citizen petition signed by more than 4,000 voters, to investigate crimes on public lands and later authorized by former Elko District Judge Thomas Stringfield to bring forward other criminal indictments.
"And for Pete Morros to make that kind of accusation, maybe he ought to look at his own job -- he doesn't listen to the populace who have gone before the legislature to complain about the actions of NDOW and he's never addressed those concerns," Hackworth said.
Commenting on Morros' charge of a `home-rule' conspiracy, Hackworth said: "The citizens of Elko County are tired of agencies who invoke `bureaucratic rule' and are not held accountable for their actions by




anyone who questions their modus operandi.
Commissioner Tony Lesperance said Morros seems to have a different sense of right and wrong.
"Did he mean 'above reproach' or above the law? If he meant above reproach, then I am unaware of anybody, including myself and the president of the United States, that is above reproach. Obviously nobody is above the law," Lesperance said. "We all have to be held accountable.
In regards to Morros' threat of judicial action, Lesperance said: "Without appearing before the grand jury, pressure from Mr. Morros and from the State of Nevada would be akin to jury tampering and I believe that is a very serious offense.
In 1991, IMC sought permission from the forest service to expand its operation. The Nevada Division of Wildlife objected, saying 5,500 acres of mule deer habitat would be disturbed. It also sought fees to restore other lands disturbed by the company. Negotiations started and a contract was signed for Independence to pay a $500,000 mitigation fee to the division.
Independence then got its permit from the forest service to begin mining on the land in question.
The grand jury found no other mining company had been required


 
to pay the fee, that there was no authority for the state to collect the money, and that damage to the land was minor.
In addition, the jury said the state knew that under federal law it would get matching funds for the $500,000, but never disclosed that to the mining company, which would have reduced IMC's contribution.
Bob Micsak, IMC's vice president and general counsel, said at the advisory board meeting that the mining company voluntarily entered into a contract with NDOW and the forest service and disagreed with the findings of the grand jury.
Morros complained that two IMC employees, Joseph Burden and Alan Mariluch, were on the grand jury.
Erikson, a veteran Wildlife Division employee who was involved in the negotiations, said the charge of coercion is unfounded.




There was disagreement on the amount of money and the formula for setting the fee, he said, adding that happens in any negotiation.
Erikson added the money received is being used to rehabilitate land south of the mining operation, which was scarred by range fires.
Hackworth noted this isn't the first time Morros has held NDOW employees "above reproach." "He's got a director who runs over budget year after year, who takes a state vehicle to a bar to go drinking, gets in a fight, and is still employed," Hackworth said referring to Molini's now-infamous Fallon bar brawl following a night of dinner and drinks at a local hunting club. "Maybe a grand jury should look at his [Morros'] department.


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