Inspector General Finds Abuses At Wildlife Agency

Dec 9, 2013

The Office of Inspector General has completed its investigation of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The investigation found that leaders of the agency violated state policy by using government property and employees for their own benefit.

The Office of Inspector General released findings from a months-long investigation on Monday, citing a variety of misuses of government resources, including instances in which managers used their influence to have free fish delivered to private ponds, a perk that isn't available to the general public.

"We fully intend to address the issues raised in the report's findings to ensure that all policies and procedures are followed and that the integrity of the department is maintained," said Stuart Ray, chairman of the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission, a nine-member board that oversees the agency.

The investigation found that in one instance, state employees were used on state time in a state vehicle to pick up building materials for the personal use of the former leader of the agency, Wildlife Commissioner Jonathan Gassett, who resigned in September while the investigation was underway.

Gassett said in an email message Monday that he hadn't seen the findings and wouldn't have any comment before reviewing them with his lawyer and taking "any necessary action."

Bill Haycraft, former president of the League of Kentucky Sportsmen and a longtime critic of the agency, said he wasn't surprised by the findings.

"We knew that this sort of thing was going on, but you couldn't prove it," Haycraft said.

The inspector general found that several leaders had been involved in using state employees to deliver free fish to private ponds.

Matt Sawyers, deputy secretary of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, has temporarily taken over day to day management of the wildlife agency.

Gassett left the agency in September to take a job with the Wildlife Management Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Washington. In a letter to employees, Gassett wrote that he decided to leave after "many sleepless nights."

The wildlife agency had come under heightened scrutiny in recent years.

The inspector general said rank-and-file employees of the agency had also worked at Gassett's house, using agency pumps and fans to remove water from a flooded crawlspace.

"They had little means by which to object to an order given to them by a supervisor, even though some of the employees had reservations about the work they were being directed to do," the inspector general wrote in a 59-page report. "There was also present the fear of retaliation for refusal to follow a manager's directive."

The inspector general's office called for "appropriate disciplinary action" to be considered against people found to have violated agency regulations or state laws, and called for steps to be taken to protect employees who cooperated in the investigation against retaliation.