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Contact: Tessy Shirakawa, 970-529-4628
Contact: Jessie Farias, Chief Ranger, 970-529-4641
On Saturday July 14, 2007 rangers were alerted to a possible illegal commercial tour operator giving a tour of the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum to four visitors in Mesa Verde National Park. When asked, one of the visitors told a ranger that they had paid about one hundred dollars for the tour and had gotten a great deal. On contact, the tour operator identified himself as Scott Raymond Sorenson, a manager of Ranger Led Tours LLC. Sorenson possessed a Colorado state Luxury Limousine Certificate for his 1994 Jeep Cherokee, which he said allowed him to conduct tours for hire throughout the entire state of Colorado. Sorenson also claimed that he had been a park ranger at Grand Canyon National Park, and as such, was aware of no other permits that he needed to conduct business within Mesa Verde National Park. His tour was stopped.
Investigation revealed that Sorenson hoped to make well over $35,000 over the summer through bookings on his website, RangerLedTours.com, which touted itself as "the premier and professional archeological/ruins tour company", of which "Each tour is Ranger Led and each guide has over 20 years of experience in National Park tours, guiding, and customer service". Sorenson owned Ranger Led Tours, was the sole employee, and many of his tours originated inside of the park, where funds exchanged hands. Ranger Led Tours had been in business for about two weeks, with trips planned at Mesa Verde National Park, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, and Aztec Ruins National Monument. Sorenson had never been a park ranger, but was an interpretive Volunteer-in-Parks for six weeks at Tusayan Museum at Grand Canyon National Park in 2005 before being let go. While Sorenson had spoken with both the Park and Regional Fee Business Managers about commercial fees several months previously, Sorenson was using his National Parks Passport to gain entry to the park instead of paying commercial vehicle entry fees. Sorenson also failed to obtain a concessioner contract, as required by 16 USC 5951-5966 for the level of revenues anticipated.
On Friday December 21, 2007, after numerous pretrial agreements and a failed motion to suppress based on Miranda, Sorenson plead guilty to 36 CFR 2.23 (b) failing to pay required fees, 36 CFR 5.3 engaging in business operations in park areas not in accordance with a permit or contract, and 36 CFR 2.32 (a) (3) providing false information for his claim of having been a National Park Service park ranger. US Magistrate Judge David L. West sentenced Sorenson to sixty days in jail, suspended, contingent on the following conditions. Sorenson was banned from Mesa Verde National Park for three years, and all National Park Service units for one year. Sorenson was to write a letter to the Cortez Journal, a local newspaper, explaining what he had done at the park. Sorenson was to maintain his job at a Durango ski business, and complete twenty quality hours of community service at the local Red Cross organization. Lastly, Sorenson was to hand deliver to Verde Valley Justice Court, AZ, a copy of this judgment. Sorenson was currently under probation and deferred prosecution in Arizona for criminal damage, endangerment, and disorderly conduct.
Had Sorenson's scheme succeeded, it is estimated that he stood to make about one thousand dollars per day, every day, during the four month summer season. This is the second illegal commercial use case prosecuted by Mesa Verde National Park in as many years. In both cases, tour operators made extensive use of internet web sites to advertise and book tours.
For additional information contact Jessie Farias, Chief Ranger at 970-529-4641.