Former BLM investigator alleges misconduct in Bundy case

In leaked document, accusations of ethics violations and unprofessionalism in Bunkerville standoff investigation.

 

In a sealed document leaked online late Thursday afternoon, a Bureau of Land Management employee alleges vast misconduct by his agency during its investigation of the 2014 armed standoff between the government and supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. The document is the latest twist in a tumultuous federal trial of Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan, and Montana militiaman Ryan Payne that began Nov. 14.

The bulk of the leaked document is a correspondence from BLM Special Agent Larry C. Wooten to Associate Deputy Attorney General Andrew D. Goldsmith. In 18 pages, Wooten alleges nearly three years of misconduct including what amounts to suppression of evidence and discriminatory behavior toward the Bundys. “I routinely observed, and the investigation revealed a widespread pattern of bad judgment, lack of discipline, incredible bias, unprofessionalism and misconduct,” Wooten wrote, “as well as likely policy, ethical, and legal violations among senior and supervisory staff at the BLM’s Office of Law Enforcement and Security.”

The document began circulating after Republican Washington state Rep. Matt Shea read parts of it in a live-stream video on Thursday. The document was acquired by the Oregonian and posted on pro-Bundy media sites yesterday. HCN has independently reviewed the document. The Interior Department and did not respond to request for comment by press time; the Bureau of Land Management declined to comment. 

Wooten, who is based in Idaho, describes himself as the lead investigator regarding the failed government impoundment of Bundy’s cattle that were grazing illegally on public land. The investigation began following the April 12, 2014 standoff to assist U.S. attorneys in their case against the Bundys and several supporters. It was what Wooten calls “the largest and most expansive and important investigation ever within the Department of Interior.” The document states he was in this role for nearly three years before higher-ups removed him from the investigation in February 2017.

Wooten alleges the BLM misconduct he witnessed “showed clear prejudice against the defendants, their supporters and Mormons.” He states that “degrading fliers” about the Bundys or their supporters were passed around his office and a booking photo of Cliven Bundy was “prominently and proudly displayed.”

On Dec. 15, 2017 Ron Miller and Neil Wampler stand outside the Las Vegas federal courthouse to support the Bundy family and other defendants in a trial related to the 2014 standoff with the federal government.
Tay Wiles/High Country News

Wooten also alleges his supervisor was not forthcoming with information about the cattle impoundment to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nevada that was preparing a case against the Bundys. Wooten states that he took it upon himself to bring information to Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre: “When I asked Mr. Myhre if the former BLM (Special Agent in Charge’s) statements like ‘Go out there and kick Cliven Bundy in the mouth (or teeth) and take his cattle’... would be exculpatory or if we would have to inform the defense counsel, he said something like, ‘We do now,’ or ‘It is now.’”

In the document, Wooten alleges that his supervisor “instigated the unprofessional monitoring of jail calls between defendants and their wives, without prosecutor or FBI consent.”

Supervisors also took case files related to the investigation of the impoundment from Wooten’s office without his permission, the document alleges. Those files included information about former BLM Special Agent in Charge Dan Love, who led the failed impoundment. Wooten states that he did not know Love before the investigation, but that he was told “time after time” of Love’s history of misconduct, such as: “Directing Subordinates to Erase Official Government Files in order to impede the efforts of rival civilian BLM employees in preparation for the ‘Burning Man’ Special Event, unlawfully removing evidence, bragging about the number of (Office of Inspector General) and internal investigations on him and indicating that he was untouchable.” Wooten writes: “It is my assessment and the investigation showed that the 2014 Gold Butte Trespass Cattle Impound was in part a punitive and ego driven expedition by a Senior BLM Law Enforcement Supervisor.”

In the document, Wooten says his intent is not to defend the Bundys. “This investigation also showed that subjects of the investigation in part adopted an aggressive and bully type strategy that ultimately led to the shutdown of I-15, where many armed followers of Cliven Bundy brandished and pointed weapons at the Federal Officers and the Agents in the Toquop Wash near Bunkerville, Nevada."

However, the document could undermine the government’s case against the Bundy family and its supporters. Prosecutors provided the Wooten document to the Bundy defense team on Dec. 8. Cliven Bundy’s attorney Bret Whipple and Ammon Bundy’s co-counsel Morgan Philpot filed a motion to dismiss the case based on the Wooten document, on Dec. 11. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment. 

Their motion was the latest in a long series filed by the defense in recent months. Unrelated to the Wooten document, prosecutors filed a response yesterday to earlier motions to dismiss based on allegations that the government has not been forthcoming with evidence throughout the trial. U.S. District Court Judge of Nevada Gloria Navarro is expected to rule on those motions early next week.

Friday morning outside the Las Vegas federal courthouse a couple dozen supporters of the Bundy family gathered with signs. “From being the accused, the Bundy family have become the accusers themselves,” said Neil Wampler of California, who participated in the 2014 confrontation as well the 2016 occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. He was acquitted on charges related to the Oregon standoff earlier this year. “We are putting the federal government on trial.”

Tay Wiles is an associate editor at High Country News and can be reached at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY RADIO PROJECT
    Community Radio Project, Cortez, CO (KSJD & the Sunflower Theatre). Visit ksjd.org and click on the Executive Director search link. CRP is an EOE.