The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

The Last Indian Trader Ruined by Park Service Incompetence

Lawsuit Filed to Unearth Suppressed IG Report into Agency Misconduct


One of the very last authentic Indian traders was put out of
business by a misguided and inept National Park Service (NPS)
investigation, but the attempt to right the wrongs has stalled in years
of bureaucratic foot-dragging, according to Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Today PEER filed a federal lawsuit
against the Interior Department Office of Inspector General (IG) under
the Freedom of Information Act to force it to release its
long-completed report into the fiasco.

Billy Malone was one of
the last of the real Indian Traders formerly employed by Western
National Parks Association (WNPA) as the resident trader at Hubbell
Trading Post National Historic Site in Ganado, Arizona. Indian traders
are a vanishing tradition of the Old West, and the national historic
site at Hubbell Trading Post was a congressionally-mandated effort to
keep that tradition alive.

By all accounts, Malone was one of
the most experienced and trusted Indian traders on the Navajo
Reservation, renowned for commitment to old-time trading ways that had
long been encouraged by the National Park Service and even former WNPA
officials. But he got crosswise with Jim Babbitt, brother of a former
Interior Secretary and then chair of the WNPA board. The Association
sparked a formal Park Service probe when it claimed large losses
attributable to an alleged embezzlement scheme by Malone. The assigned
NPS Special Agent, Clyde Yee, bungled the job, failing to assess if a
theft had even occurred, and compounded matters by using false
information to support a search warrant and then seizing from Malone a
life-savings in personal property not even listed in the warrant.

was fired and kicked out of his home but no charges were ever brought
against him. After a year and a half, another Special Agent was brought
in to take over the investigation, uncovering glaring defects in the
earlier investigation, including the concealment of exculpatory
evidence and finding the losses claimed by WNPA were likely the result
of their own accounting errors. Since high-level NPS officials were
also implicated in the misconduct and cover-up, this re-investigation
was taken over by a special unit of the Office of Inspector General in
November 2006. That report was completed in 2008 but never released.

August 27, 2009, Billy Malone filed a wide-ranging civil lawsuit in
federal district court in Arizona against individual current and former
Park Service employees, two government attorneys, and the Western
National Parks Assn. and its top officials, including Babbitt. The suit
alleges violation of constitutional rights, defamation and conspiracy
and asks for punitive damages as well.

Meanwhile, for the last
three months, PEER has attempted in vain to obtain the same IG report
exonerating Malone and castigating the actions that led to his ouster.
Today, PEER filed a separate lawsuit to force its disclosure.

"The Inspector General is supposed to be part of the solution to
government malfeasance but in this case the IG is part of the problem,"
stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization has two
other Freedom of Information Act lawsuits pending against the Interior
IG. "President Obama promised his administration would act with renewed
transparency, but this IG apparently never got that memo."


Read Billy Malone's federal civil complaint

View the PEER FOIA lawsuit

Look at another related FOIA lawsuit by PEER against the Interior IG

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.