Feds eye biologists’ fraud case

Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate

One embezzlement suspect still at large

The case against two Humboldt County biologists and a former Yurok forestry director accused of embezzling close to $900,000 from the tribe has caught the attention of federal prosecutors.

District Attorney Jon Alexander said his office has been sharing evidence gathered so far in the case with the U.S. Attorney's Office, U.S. Department of Interior and the FBI.

"There is no firm decision yet as to whether there will be a transfer, but we are exploring that option," said Alexander.

The federal government is interested in prosecuting the case because a

majority of the money allegedly embezzled was from funds allocated for

the Endangered Species Act by the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs,

Alexander said.

Former Yurok Director of Forestry Roland Raymond is suspected of bilking more than $900,000 from the Yurok

Tribe over nearly a three-year span with the aid of an environmental

association and auto body shop based in Eureka, according to an

affidavit compiled by DA's Office investigator A.C. Field.

Raymond remains at large.

The Yurok Tribe has yet to make a public statement after authorities

served searched warrants in Humboldt County on Feb. 23 in connection

with the case.

A majority of the money - $870,064 - is alleged to have been siphoned

from the Yuroks' coffers for spotted owl surveys that were not

completed by Mad River Biologists, a consortium of scientists based in

Eureka,a court document states.

Raymond is alleged to have employed the help of Ron LeValley, 65, and

Sean McAllister, 45, both biologists at Mad River Biologists located in

Old Town Eureka.

LeValley was previously listed as the consortium's senior biologist

on the Mad River web site. A tab delineating its staff has since been

removed.

A majority of the suspected 75 fraudulent invoices for the owl

surveys involved four areas and were supposedly conducted throughout all

months of the year, the court document states.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protocol for surveying management

activities on lands that may impact the Northern spotted owl states that

the survey period in California can be from March 1 through August. Owl

spotting surveys must be given to the service before any land

management can occur where the owls may live.

The protocol also calls for a survey area to be completed within a

week and that each area should have six visits per year in a two-year

survey. Visits performed outside of the survey period do not count

unless confirmed by the USFWS.

The Yurok Tribe has turned in less than five surveys to the federal

Fish and Wildlife Service in the past three years, said Kathleen

Brubaker, lead endangered species biologist for the service. Those

surveys were for smaller land management projects such as road

decommissioning; none was intended for timber harvesting projects that

Brubaker could recall.

LeValley and McAllister were arrested Feb. 23 on suspicion of

embezzlement, burglary and conspiracy after several agencies from Del

Norte and Humboldt counties served search warrants on three locations in

Humboldt: the Mad River Biologists building, Wonder Bros. Auto Body and

Raymond's home.

McAllister was arrested at the consortium's building and LeValley later turned himself in to Del Norte authorities.

At their arraignment a few days after their arrest, LeValley's

attorney, Bill Bragg, stated his client thought he was helping the Yurok

Tribe by reallocating funds.

"Mr. LeValley finds himself in this situation because of the trust he

placed in Roland Raymond, who he had known for many years as a trusted

manager for the tribe," said Bragg in a recent interview with the

Triplicate.

He declined to expound on his statements made in court.

The District Attorney's Office has determined close to $500,000 was

last touched by McAllister through banking receipts, the court document

states. It has also traced about $129,000 transferred from the

consortium's account to LeValley's account, the document states.

Greg Rael, McAllister's attorney, declined comment about whether

McAllister also thought he was helping the tribe reallocate funds.

"Regarding the disappearance or evaporation of $870,000 in federal

funds ... if that indeed were true, Mr. LeValley would rank with Bill

Gates as being one of the premiere philanthropists in America," said

Alexander. "Sadly, our records and investigation do not appear to

support that laudable thesis."

LeValley and McAllister are scheduled to have a hearing in Del Norte

on May 1 for an update on the federal government's decision.

Reach Anthony Skeens at askeens@triplicate.com .

14020165
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