For Immediate Release
Bush Appointee Blocked Fine of Congressman in Forest Fire
Rep. Brown Notice Intercepted at Post Office on Orders of USDA Undersecretary
WASHINGTON - One day after a notice of a fine for a forest fire set by a
prominent Republican congressman was put into the mail, a top political
appointee ordered it recalled. The fine against U.S. Representative
Henry Brown (R-South Carolina) was then reduced contrary to agency
procedures, according to documents released today by Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
For more than four years, Rep. Brown had refused to pay charges
assessed by the U.S. Forest Service for a fire he set on his own
property which burned out of control, spreading to a neighboring
national forest. On March 12, 2008, the Forest Service finally issued a
notice of indebtedness by certified mail against Rep. Brown charging
him for the cost of putting out the fire with interest for ignoring
The next day, however, came frantic orders to get the certified
letter back at the behest of U.S. Department of Agriculture
Undersecretary Mark Rey. In a March 14, 2008 memo to file, Richard
Anderson of Forest Service Claims Management wrote:
"Michael Clonts (ASC for Budget and Finance) called
me...and asked me if I could ‘pull back that letter', he went on to
say...Mark Rey would be testifying before a U.S. House of
Representatives committee of which Henry Brown was a member and Mark
Rey did not want Henry Brown to receive the Notice of Indebtedness. I
told Michael I would do my best to retrieve the letter."
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The letter was retrieved. Under lobbying pressure from Rep. Brown,
who personally contacted Forest Service staff, his fine was reduced by
waiving more than $1,000 in penalties. On April 11, 2008, Rep. Brown,
who is a member of the House subcommittee which oversees the Forest
Service, finally paid the original $4747 civil assessment to cover fire
suppression costs. He had earlier paid a $250 criminal fine for the
underlying offense following charges of obstruction of justice by
Forest Service special agents.
"This is ticket fixing at the highest levels," stated PEER Executive
Director Jeff Ruch who obtained the records under the Freedom of
Information Act. "The way the Bush administration works, a political
appointee like Mark Rey can merely snap his fingers to send the Forest
Service into a mad scramble to undo a long overdue act of law
Several internal reviews had affirmed that the Forest Service was
required to assess the civil penalty for suppression costs and was more
than justified in charging interest after Rep. Brown refused to honor
billings dating back to 2005.
"In the twilight of the Bush administration, Mark Rey will likely
have returned to lobbying for timber interests by the time another
investigation is completed, while Rep. Brown will be immune from ethics
charges when this session ends in a few weeks," Ruch added. "Hopefully
this case of influence peddling will convince the next administration
to insulate resource law enforcement from political interference."
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