Leonardo"s Notebook by Mattheus Mei

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The 'little man' speaks out against Rep. Brown

In a damning letter which only, forgive the pun, adds fuel to the fire - the whistle blower in Representative Henry Brown's illegal burn speaks out. Really there's no other way to do this other than just put it out there in full so we're going to treat this as a 'letter to the editor if you will'

In the words of Smokey the Bear: "Only you can prevent forrest fires..." unless you're Henry Brown and can strong arm your way around it only because of your position and PARTY.

Folks: I wanted to take a moment of your time about Congressman Henry Brown's (R, SC 1st District) "Open Letter" dated 10/20/2008 that appears on his Website. After I read it, I contacted the Linda Ketner for Congress Campaign and asked for their media contacts, which they provided.

By way of introduction, I served for over 36 years in various U.S. Forest Service law enforcement positions (Law Enforcement Officer, Special Agent, and Washington Office leadership law enforcement assignments), before retiring in December, 2006. In my last 10 years of service, I managed the agency's largest law enforcement program as the Special Agent in Charge for the Southern Region of the Forest Service (approximately 200 employees and an 18 million dollar budget), where enforcement problems occurring on National Forest lands are substantial.

I, along with U.S. Forest Service Patrol Captain John A. (Andy) Sadler, who continues to supervise all law enforcement programs for the Forest Service in South Carolina, were the ones who filed a “Whistleblower Complaint” against Congressman Brown in September, 2004. As you probably know, this complaint ultimately led to a Federal criminal citation in 2004 and a civil recovery action in 2008 against Congressman Brown. The contents of our Whistleblower Complaint and accompanying report, which have never been formally disputed by either Congressman Brown, or anyone else, is still available for viewing at the following link: http://www.peer.org/docs/fs/BrownSetsFire.pdf .

Andy and I filed the Complaint because the Chief of the Forest Service and the USDA Undersecretary ordered us not to issue a citation to Congressman Brown for allowing the fire that he set to escape onto the adjoining national forest. They issued this order because Congressman Brown personally met with them both and asked that the Forest Service not move forward with the issuance of the violation notice and the civil suppression cost billing because it would make him "look bad" for his upcoming 2004 re-election.

This order remained in effect for 6 months despite clear direction from the United States Attorney for the District of South Carolina that Congressman Brown should receive the violation notice (stating that "Congressman Brown should be treated like anyone else").

When it finally became apparent to us that Congressman Brown had essentially bullied his way out of a $250 fine; something that clearly would or could not have happened to any other citizen residing in the 1st District, Andy and I forwarded the Complaint to the USDA Inspector General. Congressman Brown paid his fine only after news stories about the Complaint were published in the Post and Courier, Atlanta Journal, and the Washington Post.

In his "Open Letter", Congressman Brown makes a number of inaccurate statements and important omissions relating to the above that I feel compelled to correct:

1. Contrary to his disclaimer, Congressman Brown clearly violated the terms of his South Carolina Forestry Commission permit which required that he "have enough people and equipment available to control the fire and prevent its spread”. His only means of controlling the blaze was a trash can full of water on the back of a pick-up truck along with some pine boughs; thus he lacked the capacity to prevent its spread. At the very least, he showed a complete and utter lack of judgment on a day when the fire danger was very high.

2. Congressman Brown had the gall to try and stick taxpayers with a $9,040 bill for an incident which occurred almost 20 years earlier as another way to pressure the Forest Service to drop both the pending criminal and civil actions because of his negligence. The Government had to spend significant time and resources in order to deal with this frivolous claim.

3. Congressman Brown's letter states that the Code of Federal Regulations rule change that he obtained does not "impact their {USFS} ability to investigate fires on public land." but omits the fact that it impedes investigations of fires on private lands which then spread onto public lands. Clearly, the rule change was written to seek some sort of after-the-fact exoneration of Brown's conduct. The rule change Rep.
Brown pushed through seriously weakens the Forest Service's ability to protect against irresponsible actions by persons who set fires that may spread and pose significant dangers to life, property and public resources.

4. In 2008, at Congressman Brown's insistence, the USDA Undersecretary significantly reduced Brown’s civil liability billing (lessening the recovery for taxpayers). In fact, his fear of Congressman Brown's wrath was so intense that the original bill was intercepted at the post office
http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=1107 .

5. Rep. Brown has accused me of being "disgruntled.” I don't know about that, but I do know that I was upset because a Member of the U.S. Congress was trying to get out of paying for both the violation notice and civil billing costs of putting out the fire, which he caused out of his own stupidity. If this situation had involved any other citizen residing in the 1st District, the agency would have routinely issued a violation notice and sent them a bill for the suppression costs.

Our complaint however, forced the Forest Service to finally have Brown issued a criminal citation and fine as well as recover from him a portion of the suppression costs http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=410. In other words, Andy and I were correct in pointing out that ignoring the incident, just because Brown had requested Forest Service agency heads to do so, would be wrong. Once the complaint saw the "light of day" our superiors were forced to agree with us.

6. Congressman Brown's statement ("Never did I threaten an official") is a classic non-denial denial. Congressman Brown certainly indicated his displeasure in strong enough terms to both the Chief of the Forest Service and the USDA Undersecretary as to cause them to back off of appropriate enforcement action. On March 26, 2004, Congressman Brown stated to both Captain Sadler and Forest Supervisor Jerome Thomas that if the Forest Service persisted in its issuance of the Violation Notice to him, "Forest Service programs might need to be scrutinized more closely." On April 21, 2004, Congressman Brown stated to several top Forest Service officials in his congressional office that he wanted the agency to change the wording in the Code of Federal Regulations and make it retroactive so that no offense would have occurred at the time his fire escaped control.

Congressman Brown’s pressure forced what should have been a routine enforcement action to take a tortuous four years at a cost of at least $100,000 http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=1056 . Ordinary citizens could not bring such clout to bear nor does Congressman Brown seem to have brought such clout to bear for anyone but himself.

Throughout this unfortunate and time consuming case, it became clear to me Congressman Brown felt that because of his position, he was entitled to a "free-pass" and when it looked like he wasn’t going to get one, he made threats and pressured to change the law. In my many years of law enforcement, I have never witnessed such a blatant and arrogant demand for special treatment by a member of Congress of either party.

Justice was served only after we went public with the case.

Thanks for the opportunity to provide this information and if you have questions about what really happened, just let me know.

John L. (Jack) Gregory
Special Agent in Charge,
RetiredSouthern Region
USDA Forest Service
3275 Highborne Circle
Marietta, GA 30066

Well. That says a lot. Good luck trying to wiggle your way out of this one Henry Brown. The people deserve a better representative than they have in you and hopefully they'll get one this November.

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