Last week I wrote an article discussing the 40-plus federal agencies that employ armed investigators. If a citizen were investigated by the FBI or Secret Serice they would probably expect a person with a gun to ask them questions. However, if the National Park Service or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were to begin an investigation, then I expect many would be surprised to be confronted with an armed interrogator.
Indeed, those agencies have guns as do many other typically bureaucratic federal agencies. If one of these investigators suspect that you may have violated a law or regulation, then you could face a situation similar to what the following people experienced.
In the early ‘90s the National Park Service offered to purchase a portion of a 200-acre piece of land from millionaire Donald Scott. Mr. Scott declined their offer. After Mr. Scott refused to sell his land, an investigative agent with the Park Service discussed the matter with a local sheriff’s deputy. The deputy claimed he had heard a rumor that Mr. Scott had a marijuana growing operation on his land. On Oct. 2, 1992, the police, DEA, Border Patrol, National Guard and the National Park Service raided Mr. Scott’s property. They broke down his door and shot him dead in front of his wife. After smiling and posing for pictures in front of the Scotts’ cabin, the investigators conducted a thorough search of the entire 200-acre estate using helicopters, dogs, searchers on foot, and a high-tech Jet Propulsion Laboratory device for detecting trace amounts of marijuana by-products. No marijuana, or indeed or any other illegal drug, was found.
In 2005, a marine biologist named Nancy Black was captaining a whale watching voyage when one of her employees whistled at a humpback whale that had approached her boat. Nancy was well aware of a federal law against harassment of aquatic life, and she worried that her employee’s behavior might have violated the law. In an effort to be a good citizen, she instructed a different employee to contact the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and ask if the whistling had violated the law. The NOAA investigated the incident and requested a video taken at the time of the whistling. Ms. Black provided the video after she had edited it to highlight the whistling.
Ultimately, the NOAA determined that the whistling did not constitute harassment, and neither the employee nor Ms. Black’s whale watching company were charged with violating the law. Unfortunately, Nancy was personally indicted on a felony violation of the False Claims Act of 1863. The False Claims Act was enacted to punish governmental suppliers during the Civil War when they defrauded the Union. The NOAA claimed that Nancy had committed a felony because she provided them an edited video, calling this a “material false statement” in violation of the act. After a vigorous legal defense, which cost Ms. Black a substantial sum of money, she was not convicted on the charge.
In 2009 and again in 2011, agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service armed with SWAT-style gear including body armor and semi-automatic weapons raided factories of the Gibson Guitar Company. Gibson is the manufacturer of the famous Les Paul guitar. Both raids were conducted to investigate alleged violations of the Lacey Act, a century-old endangered species law. The Lacey Act makes it illegal to violate other nation’s environmental laws and regulations. Thus, not only must a citizen be informed regarding all appropriate U.S. law, but apparently your government also expects its citizens to be aware of all the laws around the entire globe.
The 2009 raid concerned potential violations of Madagascar’s law, and the 2011 raid concerned potential violations of India’s law. The government seized hundreds of thousands of dollars of imported wood during each raid, and Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz estimated that each raid cost the company millions of dollars. Ultimately, Gibson settled with the federal investigators and paid a $300,000 fine rather than spend years in court and likely far more money defending against the allegations. Gibson’s CEO still insists the raids were politically motivated based upon his historic donations to conservative candidates and causes. Of note, Martin & Co., makers of Martin Guitars, sources its wood from the exact same supplier in India, and imports the exact same wood that Gibson imports. However, Martin & Co. have never been raided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The CEO of Martin & Co., Chris Martin IV, is a longtime Democratic supporter.
Nevertheless, try not to run afoul of the alphabet soup of federal agencies out there. Finally, to continue my efforts to inform our citizenry of federal crimes, please be aware that it is a federal crime for a law enforcement officer working for the Bureau of Reclamation to knowingly and willfully be late to work: 43 U.S. Code § 373b(b) and 43 CFR § 422.12(a).
And you thought your boss was tough…
John Judkins is a Greenfield attorney.