Special Agent Joe Nardinger conducting outfitter compliance checks up the
Squirrel River near Kotzebue, Alaska. Note: Antlers were legally acquired.
Special Agents Work with Resource Specialists to Uncover Fraud and Theft
By Joe Nardinger
In June 2008, special agents, who were with the BLM’s Office of Law Enforcement and Security and assigned to Alaska, received information from a confidential source who provided the name of a commercial outfitter and guide believed to be operating illegally on BLM lands in Alaska. The BLM acted on this information, and during the course of a lengthy investigation, agents linked the illegal outfitter to the theft of paleontological and archeological resources from public lands.
An additional suspect determined by investigation to be linked to the illegal outfitter was also identified, and a federal search warrant for the suspect’s residence was granted. Agents, assisted by the paleontologist from BLM’s national office, located and seized both paleontological and archeological evidence from the suspect’s home.
In addition to the stolen artifacts, agents recovered other documentary evidence in support of the BLM investigation and contraband in the form of child pornography. Discovery of the child pornography resulted in a comprehensive and complex secondary investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Further investigation by BLM special agents resulted in the identification of two additional fraud schemes involving the outfitter and an associate. Cooperative investigations were initiated with the National Science Foundation, Office of the Inspector General, and the State of Alaska Permanent Fund Fraud Division. These felony level investigations resulted in the recovery of thousands of dollars fraudulently obtained from both the National Science Foundation and the State of Alaska.
Through the testimony of the assigned case agent, the Assistant United States Attorney assigned to Fairbanks, Alaska, presented a portion of the BLM case to a federal grand jury seated in Anchorage, Alaska, on August 18, 2010. The testimony resulted in a successful two-count felony indictment alleging theft of government property and conspiracy to steal government property and to violate the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act of 2009.
As of 2012, this case had resulted in two felony convictions and one misdemeanor conviction specifically relating to the BLM’s investigation. Criminal fines of $130,000 were assessed ; a fine of $100,000 levied against one suspect was the single largest criminal fine ever imposed in a paleontological resource case investigated by the BLM. All contraband in the form of paleontological or archaeological resources identified by investigators was forfeited to the BLM.
This case is significant because it is the first successful criminal prosecution and conviction citing the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act. It is also significant because it represents what can be achieved when dedicated BLM resource staffs cooperate and share their expertise with law enforcement special agents to aid in the successful apprehension of resource violators. BLM paleontologists, archeologists, geographic information system specialists, and recreation specialists all provided valuable assistance during the course of this investigation.
Joe Nardinger was a BLM special agent in Fairbanks, Alaska, and is now a law enforcement ranger at the BLM’s Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument in Montana. Joe has worked for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks; the U.S. Forest Service; and the U.S. Navy.