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Chronicles of 2009
Settlement reached in cultural resources violation
Joshua Tree National Park • February 2009
A settlement was reached in February 2009 under the Park System Resources Protection Act (PRSPA, 16 US Code 19jj) with a man who had illegally excavated cultural resources in Joshua Tree National Park. Scott Johnson will pay $2,000 in restitution to the park and initiate on-line discussions outlining his experience in dealing with his violations and why the federal government preserves cultural resources. The settlement is the result of an investigation into Johnson's activities following an encounter in the park with US Park Rangers in April 2007. At that time, rangers were told that a man was digging in a historical site. When the rangers contacted Johnson as he was walking back to his car, they observed several digging implements and two older beer cans in his possession. The rangers issued a citation to Johnson, who paid the associated fine. The park archeologist and a US Park Ranger subsequently went to the cultural site where Johnson had been digging and found that 17 holes had been excavated. Because a more serious criminal case was no longer possible due to the citation, a Special Agent with the NPS Investigative Services Branch issued a notice of a PRSPA violation to Johnson. Soon after reaching the settlement, Johnson initiated online discussions on the Brewery Collectibles Club of America (BCCA) and "Rusty Bunch" beer can collecting forums. Johnson also submitted an anti-looting article to the BCCA magazine, Beer Cans and Brewery Collectibles. His article, "A Reminder to Consider Where We Dig," appeared in the BCCA magazine in September 2009 and includes a listing of federal regulations and laws protecting such resources.
ISB Special Agents receive DOI Victim Assistance Awards
National Park Service • April 2009
Every year, National Crime Victims Rights Week spotlights our nation's response to victims of crime. This is a time that raises public awareness about victim's rights, protection, and services. During this special week, the Department of the Interior (DOI) and its Victim Assistance Program recognize and honor bureau law enforcement officers for their outstanding efforts on behalf of crime victims. This year, the DOI recognized three National Park Service employees with Victim Assistance Awards:
- US Park Ranger Melody Morrison, while serving a Detail as a Special Agent with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB), provided outstanding assistance for the victim of a sexual assault.
- Special Agent Christopher Smith (now Special Agent in Charge of the Investigative Services Branch) is honored for his work with and assistance to the family of a homicide-suicide.
- Special Agent David Barland-Liles is recognized for his work on not only investigating but advocating for two child victims of sexual assault and child pornography.
The victim assistance program would like to extend its sincere appreciation and gratitude to these employees for their outstanding efforts on behalf of victims of crime. All three will receive a medal and a certificate of appreciation from the DOI director for law enforcement and security.
Drug traffickers sentenced
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument • April 2009
During an April court hearing, three men were sentenced for various drug smuggling charges; another person’s case is still pending. Carlos Vasquez-Ibarra was ordered to serve 60 months imprisonment, and Manuel Antonino Palominbo-Acelo was ordered to serve 18 months imprisonment. They were each fined $1,800 will be under community supervision once released. Heminio Resedendis-Marin was ordered to serve 13 months imprisonment followed by 3 years supervised release. The charges against them stemmed from two incidents in November 2008 in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. On November 11, a tracking team of US Park Rangers and a Special Agent of the Investigative Services Branch (ISB) interdicted a group of suspected marijuana backpackers north of the international boundary. The team tracked the suspects for about seven miles before contacting them. Three smugglers were taken into custody and 193 pounds of marijuana were seized. Though the US Attorney’s Office declined prosecution, the Pima County (AZ) attorney took the case and filed felony charges against the suspects for transportation of more than two pounds of marijuana for sale (Arizona Revised Statutes Title 13 Section 3405). On November 20, US Park Rangers identified a group of 10 suspected smugglers heading north from the boundary. As they approached, members of the group scattered and attempted to flee. One man with a marijuana backpack was taken into custody, and admitted to having been paid $1,000 to backpack a load of marijuana into the United States. Seven other backpacks were located nearby, bringing the total weight of marijuana recovered during this incident to 419 pounds.
Prohibited Possessor of a firearm sentenced
Yellowstone National Park • May 2009
A man will serve 28 months in prison followed by 3 years supervised release for being a prohibited possessor of a firearm. The sentence was handed down to Steven Howe, age 52, in Wyoming District Court on May 15. Howe pleaded guilty to the charge, which was the result of an incident dating back to August 2004 when he was taken into custody by US Park Rangers of Yellowstone National Park for DUI and driving with a suspended license. As rangers inventoried Howe's impounded vehicle, they discovered a Ruger .22 rifle inside. Through interviews and a review of Howe’s criminal history, a Special Agent with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB) determined that Howe possessed the rifle by conspiring with a friend to conduct a “straw purchase.” Howe also had a felony conviction of eluding officers in Colorado. During the execution of a search warrant of Howe's residence, investigators discovered additional evidence of gun and ammunition ownership. Howe was subsequently indicted by a Grand Jury, and was taken into custody in September 2008 by the US Marshals Service and an ISB Special Agent. Howe remained in custody pending the plea agreement and sentencing.
Poacher convicted on State charges
Yellowstone National Park • May 2009
Stephen Slavinsky, age 44, was sentenced on May 19 in Gallatin County Court (MT) after pleading guilty to four State felony poaching charges. Slavinsky was ordered to serve 20 years in prison (15 years suspended) and his hunting privileges have been revoked for life anywhere in the world. He is also prohibited from possessing firearms and other weapons for life, is banned from entering any national park for 20 years, must forfeit all mounts, antlers, horns and pelts seized during the investigation, and must pay the court costs. The sentence and successful prosecution were the result of an investigation conducted with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, which revealed that Slavinsky was conducting illegal guiding, hunting, and trapping operations. The investigation also determined that Slavinsky attempted to take wildlife (elk and river otters) from Yellowstone National Park during the night of December 8, 2007. Slavinsky had a previous misdemeanor federal conviction from 1987 after poaching an elk in the same area of Yellowstone National Park. In light of the state sentence the US Attorney’s Office and the National Park Service declined to pursue additional federal misdemeanor charges.
Arrest made for possession of child pornography
Grand Canyon National Park • May 2009
US Park Rangers were alerted in May that Gary James Hancock, a concessions employee residing in Grand Canyon National Park, had paid to download child pornography to his computer. Special Agents with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB), investigators with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and US Park Rangers served a federal search warrant at the park residence on May 28. The search resulted in the discovery of downloaded movies depicting prepubescent boys and girls engaged in sexual activity. Hancock was subsequently arrested and charged with two counts of possessing child pornography obtained from interstate or international commerce.
Sentencing for felony abusive sexual contact of a juvenile
Yellowstone National Park • June 2009
On June 29, Alan Scott Timberlake was sentenced in Wyoming District Court to 97 months incarceration followed by ten years of supervised release. Timberlake had pleaded guilty on March 19 to violating 18 U.S.C. 2244(a)(5) & (c), abusive sexual contact with a juvenile under the age of twelve. He was arrested on January 27 following a Grand Jury indictment. The sentencing ends an investigation started in July 2008, during which US Park Rangers and Special Agents of the Investigative Services Branch (ISB) served eight search warrants, enlisted the help of numerous child interview specialists as well as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and hired a specialized forensics lab. As part of his plea agreement with the US Attorney’s Office, two additional charges for production and possession of child pornography were dismissed.
Man pleads guilty to violating the Archeological Resources Protection Act
Various public lands • June 2009
On June 17, Charles Lindsey pleaded guilty to violating the Archaeological Resource Protection Act, 16 USC 470 ee(b). The charge was the result of a joint investigation by Special Agents with Investigative Services Branch (ISB), the US Department of the Interior (DOI), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the US Forest Service (USFS). The investigation began in 2005 when a concerned citizen reported that Lindsey was looting artifacts from public lands. The reported activity included hunting for and taking numerous potsherds, stone points, petrified wood, mineral resources such as Moki Marbles, and dinosaur bones from near the Defiance House and Rincon areas of Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Investigators determined that Lindsey had also taken a pot and a large metate from Mesa Verde National Park, vertebrate fossils from BLM lands, and dinosaur remains from Badlands National Park. These items, as well as several others seized during the execution of search warrants including three large sifting screens used by Lindsey to find artifacts, will be forfeited to the US Government. Lindsey, a former Park County Sheriff's Deputy and investigator for the Colorado Division of Gaming, reached a plea agreement with the US Attorney’s Office that includes one year unsupervised probation.
Husband and wife sentenced for violating the Archeological Resources Protection Act
Buffalo National River • June 2009
On June 24, 2009, William A. Graves and Misty Graves were sentenced in US District Court for violations of the Archeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA). Mr. Graves will serve six months in prison followed by a year of supervised probation, and Mrs. Graves will serve a year of supervised probation. The two were also ordered to pay $4,613 in restitution. The charges were the result of an investigation by Special Agents of Investigative Services Branch (ISB) and US Park Rangers of Buffalo National River and Hot Springs National Park. On January 9, 2008, rangers were alerted to the recent looting of a known archeological site in the park’s upper district. While installing surveillance equipment near the site, rangers contacted Mr. Graves and a juvenile walking toward the area. Mr. Graves was in possession of digging tools and boots that matched impressions left in the recently excavated looter holes. Mrs. Graves remained at a trailhead area with their vehicle. She was found to be in possession of artifacts and a pick. Further investigation and crime scene analysis positively linked the Graves to the site. Investigators executed a search warrant of their residence and discovered numerous items associated with collecting artifacts and other evidence linking the Graves and other subjects to excavating activities in the park and on nearby private land. During subsequent interviews, the Graves admitted to digging in the park and relinquished 71 stone tools, projectile points, and other artifacts identified as originating from the site. The Graves were indicted by a federal grand jury. The Cultrual and Archeological Response Team (CART) provided assistance in the investigation, and expert testimony from a National Park Service archeologist was instrumental during court proceedings.
Yellowstone Special Response Team captures fugitive
Yellowstone National Park • July 2009
US Park Rangers received a BOLO (Be On the Lookout) on July 22 for a registered sex offender who failed to self-surrender in California on a $300,000 warrant. Special Agents of the Investigative Services Branch (ISB) worked with a California detective who believed Robert Odenthal was on a pack trip in Yellowstone and may have a child with him. The park backcountry office found a permit for Odenthal and rangers quickly located his vehicle in the park. The Yellowstone Special Response Team began an overnight hike to the campsite where they set up listening and observation posts until dawn. Odenthal was arrested by the team without incident and transported out of the backcountry by helicopter. The child, unharmed, was transferred to child protective services and reunited with his mother. Odenthal waived extradition and is awaiting transport to California.
Burglary suspets arrested and indicted
Yosemite National Park • July 2009
On the morning of Friday, June 17, a park visitor staying in Housekeeping Camp reported that her purse and over $1,000 of camera gear had been stolen from her car. While cancelling her credit cards, the visitor was told that her credit card had been used to purchase gas at 5:40 that morning at the El Portal gas station, about 14 miles to the West of Yosemite Valley. US Park Rangers went to the gas station and obtained a security camera photo showing a white male gassing up a silver Ford Mustang at the same time the victim's card was used. Later that day, other guests at Housekeeping camp reported that their cabin had been broken into and a pack containing electronics and flashlights had been stolen. That evening, US Park Rangers contacted two men reported as suspicious persons; the men told the rangers they didn't have a place to stay and were driving a silver Ford Mustang. Most of the stolen property was located inside the vehicle. During interviews with investigators, both suspects admitted to theft, fraudulent use of the credit card, and breaking into the cabin with the intent to steal. The two were indicted on Thursday, July 30 on three felony counts apiece, California Penal Code 459 (Burglary), 18 USC 661 (Theft in the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction) and 18 USC 662 (Possess or receive stolen property in the Special Maritime or Territorial Jurisdiction).
Conviction for illegal commercial operation
Denali National Park & Preserve • July 2009
On July 7, Donald R. Lee, age 53, pleaded guilty in federal court in Anchorage to violating 36 CFR 5.3, Commercial and Private Operations. The charge stemmed from activity in 2006, when the park received several tips that Lee was conducting glacier landing flight instruction on several glaciers within the park through his business, Alaska Floats and Skis. Lee did not have a permit or authorization to conduct such business activity. He was advised both verbally and by letter to cease his activities in the park, but failed to do so. An undercover operation was accordingly planned. In 2007, a US Park Ranger/Pilot from Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve signed up for Lee’s three-day course offering. Over two days in March, they flew a total of 5.1 hours and made about 20 landings, approximately 10 of which were on glaciers in the park. A search warrant for business records was subsequently executed at his Talkeetna residence. A Special Agent with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB) assisted US Park Rangers with the seizure of computer records and subsequent forensic analysis. The case was prosecuted by the US Attorney’s Office. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Lee was fined $5,000, placed on supervised probation for three years, and banned from flying within the boundary of the park for three years. The magistrate judge ordered that the fine be paid into the park’s wildlife protection fund.
Pursuit ends in manhunt and arrest
Yellowstone National Park • September 2009
During the night of September 4, a US Park Ranger saw two vehicles blocking the road near Canyon Junction. The ranger stopped to check the welfare of the drivers and became suspicious of the inappropriate answers he received from one of them. He also noticed that the passenger of that vehicle seemed nervous. The ranger watched the vehicle drive away and observed erratic driving behavior. A check of the vehicle’s plate revealed it was recently stolen in Minnesota. The US Park Ranger organized a felony vehicle stop but the vehicle sped away as soon as rangers activated the emergency lights on their patrol vehicles. The vehicle fled at speeds near 100 mph and was disabled by the deployment of spike strips. The vehicle eventually crashed into some trees near West Thumb and the driver fled into the woods carrying a machete. The passenger, a hitchhiker, immediately surrendered to US Park Rangers. An 18 mile section of road was closed and a perimeter was established. The Yellowstone Tactical Tracking Unit, the Special Response Team, a search dog, two Special Agents of the Investigative Services Branch, and additional US Park Rangers were activated to search for the suspect. Upon his capture three hours later, the driver was identified as John E. Robbins, age 43. His was bleeding and stated that he attempted to commit suicide by hacking at his wrists with his machete. On September 8, Robbins appeared before the US Magistrate Judge in Yellowstone National Park. He was charged with four felonies: transporting a stolen vehicle, transporting stolen goods, willfully and maliciously attempting to destroy a conveyance, and unlawfully restraining another person and exposing them to serious bodily injury. Robbins was remanded to the custody of the US Marshalls Service.
Narcotics smugglers sentenced in federal court
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument • September 2009
At two separate court hearings this month, six men were sentenced for smuggling narcotics in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Gabriel Garcia-Macias, Luis Ventura-Romero, Armando Torres-Lemos, Eduardo Tome-Hernandez, and Cesar Borquez-Ayala were each ordered to serve 13 months in prison followed by 36 months of supervised release. The sixth man, Manuel Palomino-Aceo, received a longer sentence of 28 months incarceration due to a prior state court conviction for similar charges in 2007, also to be followed by 36 months of supervised release. The six men were part of a narcotics smuggling operation west of the Lukeville Port of Entry. US Park Rangers discovered evidence of the operation in April 2009 and initiated tactical tracking of the group of nine suspects for several miles to the Senita Basin area. Rangers took the suspects into custody and seized nearly 422 pounds of marijuana in backpacks. A Special Agent with the NPS Investigative Services Branch responded to the area to assist with the investigation, which led to the successful prosecution and convictions for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, and conspiracy. The three remaining suspects in the case have also pleaded guilty and await sentencing.
Supplies and support for tsunami-stricken US territory
National Park of American Samoa • October 2009
An aggressive federal response, coordinated by FEMA and drawing on numerous federal partners, is currently underway to address the immediate needs of the survivors of Tuesday’s tsunami. On Tuesday night, within hours of receiving a request from Governor Togiola, President Obama signed a Disaster Declaration for American Samoa. Life sustaining supplies including food, water, sheltering materials and medical supplies have begun to arrive on island and will continue being airlifted into the territory. NPS staff members have assisted the US Coast Guard (USCG) with rescue and recovery operations on-island and are engaged in assessing and providing for the well-being of NPS employees and volunteers. Resource and facilities damage assessments are in progress, salvaging equipment and cultural resources and securing NPS property from looters. NPS staff members will work to assist with the broader FEMA-led recovery operation. A Special Agent with the Investigative Services Branch was the first NPS staff member to arrive from outside American Samoa, and has been acting as the NPS representative at the FEMA Unified Command Team meetings comprised of responders and the American Samoa Government. The Special Agent is participating in a law enforcement assessment of American Samoa. NPS has on stand-by for deployment an eleven-member Special Event and Tactical Team if the American Samoa Government requests additional law enforcement resources through Emergency Support Function No. 13 or at NPS’ own initiative in order to protect NPS assets. Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds and the Special Agent are preparing for the arrival of the eleven-member Western Incident Management Team, two Critical Incident Stress Management staff members and other support staff members, who will arrive in American Samoa by some time on Friday, October 2nd, SST. A team of three Cultural Resource Assessment and Recovery Team Specialists will assist with the assessment and recovery of cultural resources in the National Park of American Samoa and will likely assist with the broader recovery efforts in the insular area. Once immediate life safety and basic support systems are well established, NPS will send a four-to-six-person Natural Resource Damage Assessment Team to assess the impacts to submerged resources at the National Park of American Samoa. NPS’ current focus is on the employees and the resources of the National Park of American Samoa, although all of the resources that NPS has on site, including employees and volunteers at the National Park of American Samoa, are available to some degree for the larger insular recovery effort.
Three smugglers sentenced to prison
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument • October 2009
Three men who were part of a group of 9 marijuana backpackers arrested in the park earlier this year were recently sentenced in federal court. Lauro Torres-Sanchez and Antonio Lopez Cruz will each serve 13 months incarceration followed by 36 months of supervised probation. Fancisco Mayorga-Coronel will serve 40 months in prison, then will also serve 36 months supervised probation. Mayorga's sentence was increased due to his lengthy criminal history. All 9 in the group were convicted on charges of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, and conspiracy. They were apprehended on April 20, 2009 near the Senita Basin area of the park. The careful documentation of evidence by US Park Rangers who tracked the group for several miles through the desert led directly to the successful prosecution of this case. Upon completion of their sentences, the men will face immigration proceedings.
Three brothers indicted for growing marijuana inside the park
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks • October 2009
Following a four-month investigation by Special Agents with the NPS Investigative Services Brand and US Park Rangers of Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, three brothers were indicted on October 15 on charges of conspiracy to manufacture and cultivate marijuana on federal lands. The men were taken into custody in connection with two separate grow sites found in the Dorst Creek drainage. Investigations began in June, and on August 5 an interdiction team raided the sites and eradicated 3,545 marijuana plants. Investigators served a search warrant at a residence in early October and seized additional marijuana plants, processed marijuana, cultivation supplies, and four firearms. Eight adults and five young children were living in the house at the time. Providing valuable assistance in the case were agents from the Central Valley Marijuana Investigative Team and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Park employee convicted of Possession of Child Pornography
Mojave National Preserve • October 2009
After a family member of a park employee found child pornography on a household computer, an investigation was initated by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations (SBI). The computer was found to have been previously owned by Theodore Robert Martin, Jr, whose current whereabouts were unknown. Special Agents with the NPS Investigative Services Branch, US Postal Inspectors, and SBI investigators located Martin in Mojave National Preserve where he was working as a seasonal maintenance employee. Martin admitted during an interview with investigators that he had downloaded and possessed child pornography in his RV. He was taken into custody and subsequently extradited to North Carolina. Special Agents obtained a search warrant to conduct a forensic examination of Martin's digital media, revealing more than 120,000 images and 600 movies of suspected child pornography. Investigators submitted approximately 80 GB of data to the National Center for Missing or Exploited Children. Martin pleaded guilty in North Carolina Superior Court on October 14 to possession of child pornography and was sentenced to serve 42-51 months incarceration.
Convictions and sentencings for assault and robbery
Hot Springs National Park • October 2009
Four men pleaded guilty in federal court on October 13 to charges of robbery and assault that stemmed from an incident in Hot Springs National Park on the evening of February 6, 2009. The four men were each sentenced to serve 60 days incarceration and ordered to pay a $600 fine and $81 in restitution. During the months-long investigation, a Special Agent with the NPS Investigative Services Branch and US Park Rangers made statewide sweeps to apprehend the five suspects involved in the incident. Four were taken into custody, and one suspect is still at large with active warrant status.
Man sentenced for abusive sexual contact
Great Smoky Mountains National Park • October 2009
On October 7, 2009, a man was sentenced to time served plus 90 days of home confinement, 40 hours of community service, and mandatory participation in a sex offender treatment program. Joel Tyler had pleaded guilty in July to charges stemming from an incident in August 2008 in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. That day, Tyler had approached a 16-year-old girl from behind as she walked to her vehicle, sexually assaulting her and making threats. He drove away in his vehicle when the victim screamed. She was able to give responding US Park Rangers a detailed description of her assailant as well as the license plate number of his vehicle. A Special Agent with the NPS Investigative Services Branch worked with rangers throughout the investigation; they were able to identify Tyler as the assailant. Tyler had been on home confinement with an electronic monitoring device since January 2009. In addition to the other terms of his sentencing, Tyler must register as a sex offender for a minimum of 10 years.
Felony conviction for illegal wildflower seed harvesting
Zion National Park • December 2009
Two men were convicted in federal court on December 7, 2009 on felony charges of theft of government property, and were sentenced to time served plus 24 months of supervised probation. Cresencio Lucena-Alvarez and Cresencio Martinez-Guzman had been in custody since their arrest on September 21 for illegally collecting wildflower seeds in Zion National Park. A US Park Ranger came upon several large bags of seeds along the roadside in the Kolob Terrace area of the park in August. Over the next several weeks, the ranger and other park personnel conducted an investigation that led to the discovery of several hundred pounds of Palmer's penstemon wildflower seeds that had been illegally harvested and removed from the park. A Special Agent with the NPS Investigative Services Branch accompanied the ranger into the remote backcountry where the illegal harvest had occurred, where they found Alvarez and Guzman illegally camped with more than 900 pounds of seeds. Investigators determined that the men intended to sell their illegal harvest to commercial seed distributors. Such distributors frequently sell their seeds to federal agencies pursuing revegetation projects. Charges against additional suspects in this case are pending.
Last updated: April 8, 2018