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Fish and Wildlife official accused of benefiting family member

The chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Division of International Conservation has been accused of violating conflict of interest rules by participating in a cooperative agreement that financially benefited a member of his family. He was also allegedly a decision maker in two other grants involving the family member.

According to Federal Times, the first allegation is detailed in a Department of Interior Inspector General report, but details were not yet available regarding the others. The first case involved an August 2014 award of $126,871 to create a training program for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The family member was listed as an instructor in the IFAW application. She received $5,684.29.

The agreement was awarded about a week after the DIC chief was selected, and neither he nor the family member made effective disclosure of their connection. At first, the DIC chief told the IG that he wasn't involved, but he allegedly approved a $30,000 modification to the cooperative agreement in September 2015. In addition, the chief allegedly sent the family member information about the agreement that was not available to the public.

The chief reportedly drafted a recusal memo related to the agreement in August 2016. However, he did not specify why he was recusing himself or who would be handling the responsibilities. The IG found it failed as an official recusal memo.

Some Fish and Wildlife employees were apparently aware of the family member's involvement in the agreement and that the DIC chief was authorizing funding. One consulted with the FWS Ethics Office on the chief's behalf and was advised to have the chief write a recusal memo for approval by the ethics office. That did not occur. Others, although aware of the potential conflict of interest, never reported it to the ethics office.

Although the IG found that the chief's actions violated both federal law and regulations, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia declined to prosecute. The IG passed on the report to the director of Fish and Wildlife for appropriate action.

In a situation like this, there could be a number of explanations for the DIC chief's behavior -- some more innocent than others. It's important to remember that the IG's report is just a set of allegations. The DIC chief has the right to present his side of the story before a neutral fact finder.

If you are accused of violating a law or regulation involving workplace ethics, you need an experienced federal employment law attorney on your side. The sooner your attorney becomes involved, the more influence they can have over the course of the investigation and any case brought against you.

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