Chronicles of 2010
Man Pleads Guilty to Assaulting his 3-Month-Old Son
Grand Canyon National Park • January 2010
Deshontae L. Blackman, age 29, pleaded guilty in federal court on January 26 to Assault Resulting in Substantial Bodily Injury to a Person Under the Age of 16. The charge stemmed from an incident on July 23, 2009, when US Park Rangers of Grand Canyon National Park responded to a park residence for a report of an infant with extensive bruising and other injuries consistent with trauma. Upon arriving on scene, the rangers recognized that the infant's injuries may be the result of child abuse and immediately contacted a Special Agent with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB). As a result of the joint invesigation, Blackman confessed to assaulting his son. He explained that on July 22, 2009, he had been drinking alcohol before and while watching the infant. Blackman became frustrated and grabbed, squeezed, and shook the baby, who suffered substantial bodily injury requiring hospitalization. Sentencing is scheduled for April 12, 2010. Prosecution is being handled by an Assistant US Attorney with the District of Arizona.
11 People Sentenced for Charges Stemming from Greenpeace Action
Mount Rushmore National Memorial • January 2010
Eleven people were arrested on July 8 after entering a closed area of Mount Rushmore National Memorial and climbing to and on a closed area on the face of the memorial. Several of the individuals hung a banner stating "America Honors Leaders Not Politicians - Stop Global Warming - Greenpeace" near the face of the Lincoln statue, while several other people chained themselves together in areas that impeded responders' access to the top of the memorial. While the individuals were climbing and setting up the protest banner, live video was being streamed through the organization's website. This video was being recorded from an unknown person in the monument parking garage. During the live video stream, Kert Davies, Research Director for Greenpeace, was narrating the activities and making statements about global warming and its harm to the environment. The narration and live video stream ended soon after the banner was cut down. On July 21, 2009, the eleven individuals were indicted for trespass in a national park, climbing Mount Rushmore as prohibited by law, interfering with a government official, and aiding and abetting others in those offenses. Greenpeace, Inc., was charged with aiding and abetting eleven individuals trespassing in a national park by entering an area not open to the public without permission, aiding and abetting nine individuals with climbing Mount Rushmore as prohibited by law, and aiding and abetting six individuals with intentionally interfering with a government employee or officer engaged in an official duty. This was one of the first times Greenpeace Inc. had been indicted for the actions of their activists. Greenpeace agreed to a civil settlement of $30,000 in Januray of 2010. $25,000 of that settlement will be used by Mount Rushmore to promote conservation activities within the memorial. The remaining money will go to the cooperating agencies that responded during the incident. The 11 people pleaded guilty on January 4 to one count of climbing Mount Rushmore and were fined $450. Five of these individuals, who had prior misdemeanor arrests, were also sentenced to 100 hours community service to be served at Mount Rushmore or another National Park Service unit. One person, who had an extensive criminal history, was sentenced to 2 days in jail and 100 hours community service in a park unit. The remaining involved individuals were sentenced to 50 hours community service at a park unit. All climbing and recording equipment seized during the incident was forfeited to the United States Government.
Man Pleads Guilty to Assaulting his 5-Year-Old Son
Grand Canyon National Park • March 2010
A cooperative investigation by US Park Rangers of Grand Canyon National Park and Special Agents with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB) led to the successful prosecution and conviction of a man for assaulting his 5-year-old son. Nathan Yazzie, age 33, pleaded guilty on March 3 to two counts of Assault of a Person Under the Age of 16. Pursuant to the plea agreement, Yazzie disclosed that he choked and punched his son between the evening of September 8 and the morning of September 9, 2009. Rangers responded to a park residence that morning for a report of possible child abuse. When they arrived, they found Yazzie highly intoxicated; his two juvenile children were also home. One of the children, a 5-year-old boy, had injuries consistent with trauma. An ISB Special Agent immediately joined the investigation. Yazzie has been in federal custody since his arrest. Prosecution was handled by the US Attorney's Office, and sentencing is scheduled for May 21.
Man Pleads Guilty to Possession of Child Pornography
Grand Canyon National Park • April 2010
Gary J. Hancock was sentenced in April to 48 months in federal prison followed by 15 years of supervised release for one count of Possession of Child Pornography. He also forfeited electronic items and a .22 caliber handgun. Hancock had pleaded guilty to the charge in January. The charge stemmed from an investigation initiated by Special Agents with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB), US Park Rangers of Grand Canyon National Park, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. In May of 2009, investigators served a search warrant at Hancock's residence in the park. He was subsequently taken into custody and indicted on four counts of Receipt of Child Pornography, two counts of Possession of Child Pornography, and one count of Possession of a Firearm with an Obliterated Serial Number.
Park Resident Charged with Theft from Local Non-Profit Group
Grand Canyon National Park • April 2010
Special Agents with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB) began an investigation in November of 2009 into the theft of thousands of dollars from the Native American Education Committee (NAEC). The NAEC is a non-profit group comprised of parents, guardians, and American Indian students attending the Grand Canyon School. The group provides support in the form of scholarships and other financial aid which allows American Indian students to pursue opportunities they might otherwise not be able to afford. The NAEC raises money for the scholarships through fundraising activities in the park. On April 14, 2010, the NAEC's former treasurer was charged with 3 felony counts of theft and 9 misdemeanor counts of theft. The defendant's initial court appearance is scheduled for May 3. An Assistant US Attorney with the District of Arizona is handling prosecution.
Concessionaire Employee Steals Work Truck while Intoxicated
Grand Canyon National Park • April 2010
US Park Rangers of Grand Canyon National Park responded for a reported motor vehicle theft in the early morning hours of April 13. The rangers processed the scene of the theft and located the missing work truck in the woods adjacent to a nearby apartment building. A Special Agent with the Investigative Services Branch joined the investigation. Rangers successfully tracked the suspect to a residence and took him into custody. While being interviewed by investigators, the man admitted that he stole the vehicle while he was intoxicated. The suspect was charged with one felony count of theft as well as an associated misdemeanor charge. He remains in federal custody.
Man Sentenced for Vehicle Break-In
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park • April 2010
Ashley Larita, age 31, was sentenced in federal court on April 12 to 9 months in federal prison followed by 3 years supervised release for charges stemming from a vehicle break-in on January 1, 2008. Larita must also pay $632 in restitution to the victim of his crime. Skilled and determined investigation of the incident by US Park Rangers of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park and a Special Agent with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB) led to Larita's arrest and felony conviction. He had broken into a visitor's rental vehicle at the popular Kilauea Iki Overlook parking lot. "Our Park Rangers and Special Agent were unwavering in the investigative efforts that led to the successful prosecution of this case," said the park's superintendent. "A purpose of the park is to provide for enjoyment of this wondrous resource by residents and visitors. We have zero tolerance for those who victimize others."
Two Men Charged with Felony Marijuana Cultivation
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park • April 2010
A federal grand jury in Honolulu (Hawai'i) indicted 2 men on April 8 for felony charges stemming from a marijuana cultivation case within Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Arrest warrants were subsequently issued for Andre Victor, age 23, and Mano White, age 20. They were taken into custody on April 11 in Hilo (Hawai'i) by US Park Rangers and Special Agents with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB). The men will be arraigned in US District Court in Honolulu. Charges include conspiring to cultivate/distribute marijuana, possession/cultivation of marijuana, and intent to distribute marijuana. They were apprehended in December of 2009 as they attempted to plant 47 marijuana plants in the forest along Mauna Loa Road. This area is a designated special ecological area and is managed to protect and restore Hawai'i's native plants and animals. Though they were initially released, the investigation into the incident led to their indictment and arrest. Prosecution is being conducted by the US Attorney's Office.
Drug Smugglers Sentenced
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument • July 2010
US Park Rangers of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument were conducting a tactical tracking operation in July of 2010 along Ajo Mountain Drive when they seized nearly 375 pounds of marijuana and apprehended 7 drug smugglers. This area is one of the most frequently visited areas of Organ Pipe National Monument and is open year-round to visitors and employees. Use of NPS Operational Leadership principles resulted in the safe and successful detection and removal of these individuals in keeping with the National Park Service's mission to protect park visitors, employees, and resources. Special Agents with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB) assisted the rangers with the investigation. The US Attorney's Office in Tucson (Arizona), the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the US Border Patrol provided outstanding cooperation and assistance throughout the case. The defendants were prosecuted under violations of US Code Title 21. Between February 16 and March 4, 2010, each defendant pleaded guilty to various charges and were sentenced to 13 months in federal prison, followed by 3 years probation. They will be remanded to federal immigration authorities upon completion of their prison terms for deportation proceedings.
Drug Smuggler Convicted and Sentenced to Federal Prison
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument • July 2010
On December 21, 2009, US Park Rangers of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument detected a group of marijuana smugglers moving through the monument. Despite the group's use of carpet overshoes intended to obscure their tracks, rangers were able to track the group approximately 5 miles over rough terrain, make contact, and take one suspect into custody. Seized from the group were 7 backpacks containing 369 pounds of processed marijuana. A Special Agent with the Investigative Services Brand (ISB) assisted with the investigation and prosecution with the US Attorney's Office. On July 28, the smuggler was sentenced to 3 years in federal prison followed by 3 years probation for violations of 21 US Code 846, Possession of Marijuana with Intent to Distribute. Upon completion of his prison term, the smuggler will be remanded to immigration officials and barred from legally re-entering the United States.
Man Arrested for Motor Vehicle Theft from Parking Area
Great Smoky Mountains National Park • July 2010
On July 7, 2010, a group started out on a backcountry hike after parking their van at the Mt. Sterling Gap trailhead. When a member of the group returned to the trailhead he found that the van was gone. US Park Rangers of Great Smoky Mountains National Park responded and took a report of the theft. The next day, detectives from a neighboring county were serving an arrest warrant on unrelated charges and found a van matching the description of the one taken from the park. They noted that the van's door lock was missing and its steering column was damaged. A Special Agent with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB) and a ranger responded to the residence where the van was found. Investigators determined the owner of the residence, Larry Gunter, had prior felony convictions and had a sawed-off shotgun in the house. Further investigation revealed that Gunter was operating a "chop shop" for stolen vehicles on his property. Numerous stolen vehicles in various states of disassembly were found on the property. Other agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) joined the case and Gunter was taken into custody by local authorities on existing warrants, with federal charges to be brought at a later time. Gunter was released on July 13 on bond, but was taken into custody again on July 15 on federal charges including felon in possession of a firearm and interstate transport of a stolen motor vehicle. He is being held pending trial.
Two People Arrested and Indicted for Vehicle Break-Ins
Great Smoky Mountains National Park • August 2010
A park employee parked her vehicle at a park trailhead in August before hiking into the backcountry. While she was hiking, her vehicle was broken into and her personal property was stolen. Her credit cards were subsequently used numerous times at local businesses. Special Agents with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB) and US Park Rangers of Great Smoky Mountains National Park began an investigation. Video surveillance of a man and woman and their vehicle from one of the involved businesses aided investigators, who also entered the serial numbers of stolen camera equipment into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) records system. Matching the serial numbers to an NCIC record, investigators determined that the camera equipment had recently been pawned at a local shop. The couple who'd pawned the equipment were located and interviewed. Michele and Charles Hurst confessed to the crimes and were charged on a five-count indictment that included bank fraud for attempting to use the stolen credit cards to obtain funds through a bank ATM machine.Their court trial is scheduled to start in January of 2011.
Child Care Center Director Pleads Guilty to Embezzling Funds
Grand Canyon National Park • August 2010
Special Agents with the Grand Canyon Field Office of the Investigative Services Branch (ISB) launched an investigation into the activities of a former child care center director after allegations of embezzlement surfaced in April of 2009. The Kaibab Learning Center (KLC) is a not-for-profit center located in Grand Canyon National Park. It is the primary day-care provider for the surrounding area. Investigators conducted interviews with witnesses and analyzed KLC financial records with assistance from the ISB Intelligence Analyst. Investigators also conducted multiple searches, including one pursuant to a warrant served at the residence of Norma Gomez, former director of KLC. Prosecution of the case is being handled by an Assistant US Attorney with the District of Arizona. Gomez pleaded guilty to embezzlement in federal court on August 4. According to court documents, she admitted to collecting cash payments from parents whose children attended the center then keeping the money for herself rather than depositing the funds into the KLC account. As part of her plea agreement, Gomez has agreed to pay restitution to the center in the amount of $55,294. A conviction of embezzlement carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in federal prison, a fine of $250,000, or both. The federal judge will consult US Sentencing Guidelines in determining an actual sentence, which is scheduled for November 19.
Cemetery Vandals Sentenced
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area • August 2010
Three juveniles pleaded guilty in federal court on August 4 to charges of vandalizing the Kane Cemetery in Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. The cemetery is located within the park near Lovell (Wyoming) and it served the communities of Kane and Iona from the early 1900s to 1965. The damage occurred over a 5-day period last fall. Court documents show that the juveniles admitted to "just horsing around" by spray painting, pushing over, and breaking headstones. US Park Rangers of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Special Agents with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB), the Bighorn Canyon Sheriff's Department, the Lovell Police Department, and the Powell Police Department Investigation Unit conducted the investigation. It was a great example of interagency effort and cooperation. The three juveniles were sentenced to serve 40 hours of community service. Each must pay a fine of $750 and restitution of $2,517 for cemetery damages. They will also serve 6 months of unsupervised probation that includes a 9 pm curfew provision.
Three Arrested in Auto Break-In at Sugarlands Visitor Center
Great Smoky Mountains National Park • September 2010
Two local college students parked their car at Sugarlands Visitor Center on September 12 then departed for an overnight backpacking trip. When they returned to the parking area, they found that someone had broken into their vehicle and stolen their personal property. A US Park Ranger and a Special Agent with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB) investigated the theft. They determined that credit cards belonging to the students had been used in several locations in cities adjacent to the park. Investigators gathered evidence and identified two suspects. Danielle Bemis was taken into custody on September 15 from her residence in a Gatlinburg (TN) hotel. While investigators were interviewing her, Bemis admitted being involved in the vehicle break-in. The second suspect, Ryan Devers, was taken into custody shortly thereafter. He also admitted his involvement, and identified a third suspect during his interviews with investigators. Bemis and Devers were indicted on charges of illegal entry into the victims' vehicle, theft of property, and bank fraud for knowingly executing a scheme to defraud a financial institution by using the victims' debit cards to attempt withdrawing money from a bank ATM. On November 1, the third suspect was identified, located, and interviewed by investigators. Kevin Catt admitted helping Devers break into the victim's vehicle. He is expected to be indicted for crimes associated with his involvement within the next two weeks.
Man Charged with Child Abuse
Grand Canyon National Park • October 2010
Emery K. Begay, age 35, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Phoenix (Arizona) on October 13 for one count of child abuse under circumstances likely to produce death or serious physical injury of a child. The indictment stems from an incident on September 9 when Begay was responsible for watching a toddler. Begay, a resident in Grand Canyon National Park, became intoxicated and passed out, allowing the toddler to exit the mobile home and wanter into the woods. The toddler was later found about a half mile from home and had crossed the busy South Entrance Road. A road construction worker saw the toddler sitting on the roadside and took him to safety. Special Agents with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB) and US Park Rangers of Grand Canyon National Park conducted the investigation. An Assistant US Attorney for the District of Arizona will handle the prosecution. A conviction of child abuse under circumstances likely to produce death or serious physical injury of a child is a Class 2 felony and carries a maximum penalty of 10-25 years in prison as well as a fine.
Two People Charged with Multiple Vehicle Break-Ins
Great Smoky Mountains National Park • November 2010
Between September 20 and October 29, 2010, approximately 15 vehicle larcenies occurred within the park at various trailheads. The vast majority of the incidents occurred in the Greenbrier area. As the investigation progressed, US Park Rangers found that many larcenies also occurred on US Forest Service lands in the area. A Special Agent with the US Forest Service teamed up with rangers and the Special Agent with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB) on the case. Investigators identified two suspects who were taken into custody by local police for unrelated charges on November 3, 2010. During interviews with the special agents, James and Jamie Walker admitted to several of the break-ins. Mr. Walker admitted to additional break-ins during follow-up interviews. The US Attorney's Office will determine charges and conduct the prosecution. Charges will include multiple felony counts of breaking and entering, theft of property, and bank fraud. With this case, Great Smoky Mountains National Park reports that three separate groups of car-clouters have been apprehended.
Traffic Stop Leads to Significant Drug Seizure
Grand Canyon National Park • December 2010
On the evening of December 21, 2010, a US Park Ranger of Grand Canyon National Park stopped a vehicle for a speeding violation along South Entrance Road. While talking with the driver, the ranger smelled the odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle. Once the two occupants exited the vehicle, the ranger asked the driver how much marijuana he had in the vehicle. The driver stated that he had a pound of marijuana. A Special Agent with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB) worked with US Park Rangers of Grand Canyon National Park on the case. Investigators determined that 594.9 grams of individually packed marijuana was inside the vehicle, as well as a scale and $5,449 in cash - some of which was packaged in $1,000 bundles. Charges filed include possession of a controlled substance and distribution.
Vandal Pleads Guilty to ARPA Violation
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area • December 2010
Last June, a concessionaire employee in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area discovered recent damage to a rock art panel below Glen Canyon Dam and reported it to an interpretive park ranger. The damage consisted of the name "TRENT" scratched into the rock art, known as the Descending Sheep panel. The ranger had visited and photographed the panel less than an hour prior to the reported vandalism, and had also observed a guided fishing trip on the beach near the panel. The information was relayed to a US Park Ranger working at Lee's Ferry. The ranger found the fishing guide at the boat ramp and asked whether anyone on the trip went by the name of Trent. The guide pointed out his passengers and the ranger asked the group for Trent. Trenton Gainey of North Carolina admitted to scratching his name into the rock art panel, telling the ranger that he did it because he thought it would be "cool." After an investigation conducted by Special Agents with the Investigative Services Branch (ISB), US Park Rangers of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and park cultural resources staff, Gainey pleaded guilty on December 9, 2010 in federal court to one felony violation of the Archeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA). He agreed to pay $10,000 in restitution to repair the damage he caused. Sentencing is scheduled for March 14, 2011.
Last updated: April 8, 2018