EPA Puts Jon Grand in Prison
Where are the criminal prosecutions of the major corporations responsible for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? Still nowhere to be found. Where are the prosecutors? Where is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)? Not prosecuting major polluters.
Instead, what are they doing? Cracking down on whistleblowers. And those who support whistleblowers. While the corporate crooks are running free.
Next time you think of this disparity of justice, remember these two words:
For more than twenty years, Grand was a senior administrator at the EPA in Chicago.
Never had a run in with the law.
Then, he made the mistake of supporting an EPA whistleblower.
In 2000, Grand was talking on the phone with colleagues in Washington.
And the EPA people in Washington were making disparaging remarks about Marsha Coleman-Adebayo – a young African-American EPA staffer who was suing the EPA and its administrator – Carol Browner – for race and sex discrimination.
“They said they all had to be in Washington because ‘the Rosa Parks of the EPA’ was suing the administrator,” Grand told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week.
“They meant that Marsha was setting herself up as someone who she wasn’t – Rosa Parks,” Grand said. “She was trying to pretend she was a civil rights crusader – suing people and so on. It was very derogatory.”
Grand had never heard of Coleman-Adebayo – or of her lawsuit.
But Coleman-Adebayo heard about the Rose Parks comment and asked Grand to fly to Washington and testifying on her behalf at trial.
And Grand did.
And it was a pivotal moment in the trial.
“I sensed that the jury was very aware of my being there – I was a bit startled by that,” Grand said.
“And second, the fact that I was a high ranking manager coming in to refute the old boys club did in fact carry some weight.”
The jury returned a $600,000 verdict for Coleman-Adebayo – the largest such verdict in this type of case against the EPA.
How did the EPA respond to Grand’s testimony?
First they refused to approve of the last $200,000 for a project he was working on.
Then, his colleagues in Washington, D.C. began to shun him.
“And I had occasion to go into Washington to meet with some people outside of the Office of International Activities,” Grand said. “But as I always did, I went over to see if there was anything they needed out of the Region or they wanted me to do.”
“As I walked down the hall, door after door after door was closed on me.”
They were closed, or they were closing as you walked down the hall?
“They were closing.”
Like a movie?
“Yes,” Grand said. “It’s the old Amish game of shunning.”
But then, the EPA escalated its retaliation against Grand.
It’s a complicated story, but here it is in a nutshell.
From 1997 to 1999, Grand was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark.
He was given a housing allowance of about $20,000 a year.
When he returned, the EPA kept giving him an additional $890 every paycheck – the housing allowance.
According to Grand, the EPA has a history of making these kinds of payroll mistakes.
In 2004, the EPA instituted a new “time and management system.”
Grand’s housing allowance was flagged.
“They talked to me about it,” Grand said. “And I said – yes, that’s what it looks like. I called the EPA Comptroller’s office in Washington. We set up a payment plan. And they began taking the money out of my paycheck to repay it.”
Grand thought that was the end of it.
“I was called into the Acting Deputy Regional Administrator’s Office and told that someone had called the EPA Inspector General about possible criminal charges,” Grand said. “That was happening in the 2003 and 2004 time period.”
“I said – I thought we had that resolved.”
“He said – no, you are going to be put on administrative leave. And the IG will contact you.”
“I wasn’t overly concerned about it.”
They say criminal investigation and you are not overly concerned?
“Only because we had an agreement with the agency. And my view was if there was a problem, they would have not agreed to it.”
“But since we had a working agreement that was working smoothly, I thought – this is somebody trying to make trouble. Which happens.”
IG attorneys fly to Chicago and interview Grand.
“I explained that we had this agreement and it was being paid back,” Grand said. “And they said they would finish their investigation and decide what to do.”
“The next thing I know is that I got a letter from the Department of Justice saying – you are being charged with a felony and we are going to seize your house, seize your property, close your bank accounts and everything else.”
“At that point, I did get a lawyer.”
Had you ever been in trouble with the law before?
And what was your thought?
“My thought was – this was a horrid mistake.”
Grand gets a lawyer.
“His advice was to plead guilty,” Grand said. “He felt very strongly that all that would happen would be probation. He felt that if we went to trial, it would be more risky in terms of a longer sentence.”
Were you surprised by that advice?
“At that point, I was in absolute shock. I was – you are the lawyer – you tell me what to do because I haven’t a clue at this point.”
Grand pleads guilty. Federal Judge Mark Filip sentences Grand to four months in prison and two years probation. (Filip is now a partner at Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago.)
He’s sent to a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he’s mistakenly put in solitary for a couple of days. And not given access to his medication for a number of weeks – until his doctor threatened to sue the Bureau of Prisons.
He gets out of jail and starts to wonder about what happened.
He now works at a book store north of Chicago.
Looking back, would he have plead guilty?
“In my current state of mind, no,” he says.
“Had I been thinking about this, I would have gone to trial and pulled all of the EPA senior financial officers to testify as to how it happened,” Grand says.
“And my guess is the case would have been dropped.”
“Thinking back on it, given how embarrassing it would have been, calling all the top people, they would have dropped the case.”
“But I don’t know that. I’m speculating based on mulling this over for years.”
“The prosecutor’s name in this case was Julie Ruder. I believe she is still with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago.”
Here is her quote from the transcript before the judge: “There is no allegation in this case that Grand caused the EPA to continue paying the overseas housing allowance. Based on current information, the government believes the overpayments were the result of error on EPA’s part.”
Grand says that overpayment of the type that he went to jail for is widespread at the EPA.
Remember the supervisor who called Grand into his office to tell him that “someone” had called the IG on Grand? It was that supervisor who called the IG.
And Grand had run ins with that same supervisor over overpayments to other staffers.
“The man who referred me to the IG – I had clashed with him before on overpayments to my staff,” Grand says. “It wasn’t pretty. And it was basically the same thing that I went to jail for. I don’t know how widespread the problem is, but it isn’t just me.”
“When the new time and attendance tracking system was put in place, the union went to the regional administrator and forced an agreement that should any discrepancies be found in payments to EPA workers, there would be no disciplinary action against the workers.”
So why did you end up in jail?
“I don’t know,” Grand says.
“By the way, the union did come to my defense. One EPA union leader wrote a letter saying that ‘prosecuting Grand was like raising office politics to the level of blood sport.’”
Grand says that since he was sent to jail for illegally receiving funds because of an admitted EPA mistake, higher ups at the EPA should go to jail for illegally dispersing those funds.
He wants an investigation and prosecution.
“If this were investigated and the retaliation were proven, I think I would have a good case to go to the Justice Department and ask for a pardon.”