The Humboldt County biologist who falsified several dozen work invoices and helped embezzle almost $1 million dollars from the Yurok Tribe was sentenced on Tuesday to less than a year in prison.
Ron LeValley, 67, of Little River, who pleaded guilty in February for his role in a conspiracy to embezzle more than $800,000 from the Yurok Tribe over a span of three years, was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison - about two months less than the sentence that the U.S. Attorney's Office and the federal probation department recommended. U.S. District Judge William Alsup decided that 10 months was a more appropriate sentence, due in part to LeValley's cooperation with the federal
investigation into the embezzlement.
Former Yurok forestry director Roland Raymond, who LeValley claimed tricked him into participating in the embezzlement scheme, was sentenced in January to three years in prison.
Raymond and LeValley were also ordered to pay $852,000 in restitution to the tribe, owed jointly between them.
Beyond LeValley's cooperation with the government, LeValley's defense lawyer William Kimball wrote in a sentence memorandum to the court that his client's clean record, character and "unusual participation" in the conspiracy should qualify him for a more lenient sentence than what the government recommended.
Kimball argued that LeValley's criminal conduct was a "complete aberration" in his life and also a foolish and naive choice that LeValley made because he thought the money was going to help the Yurok Tribe, not fuel Raymond's drug addiction.
According to the memorandum, Raymond, as director of forestry for the tribe, was responsible for making sure that timber harvests would not disturb protected species. He began working with LeValley in 1995 when he started to send assessment work to Mad River Biologists, the environmental consulting firm that LeValley founded.
According to Kimball, beginning in 2007, Raymond told LeValley that the tribe wanted to pay bonuses to Mad River Biologists employees, as well as tribe members who worked on various forestry and fire crews. In order to do that, Raymond told LeValley to submit inflated work invoices to the tribe, give his employees their bonuses, and then give the rest of the money back to Raymond to distribute to the forestry crews.
"Ron foolishly agreed," Kimball wrote.
However, unbeknownst to LeValley, the money he wasn't using to pay MRB employees and taxes - about 80 percent of it - was actually supporting Raymond's drug habit, not the forestry crews, according to Kimball's sentence memorandum.
"He was, without question, tricked into joining the conspiracy," Kimball wrote.
LeValley's naivete caught up to him in February 2012 when he and a colleague, Sean McAllister, were arrested on suspicion of embezzlement, burglary and conspiracy. McAllister, who later had the charges against him dropped, was arrested at the Mad River Biologists building. LeValley turned himself in to Del Norte authorities later. This kind of cooperation from LeValley continued as the government investigated further.
"Ron's response to the criminal investigation and charges against him, unlike the crime itself, has been entirely consistent with his character," Kimball wrote.
That character - as attested to by more than 80 letters sent to Judge Alsup from LeValley's family, friends, and colleagues - also weighed in LeValley's favor. In the letters LeValley was repeatedly described as "passionate," "positive," "helpful" and "naive."
"As the more than 80 letters submitted to the court describe in great detail," Kimball wrote, "Ron LeValley has lived an exemplary life of uncommon generosity and service to others and to his community. And yet, in sharp contrast to this regard for others, and of a long life lived exceptionally well, stands the criminal conduct in this case."
Reach Aaron West at email@example.com.