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Utah BLM agent used position to get Burning Man perks, report says

First Published      Last Updated Feb 01 2017 11:00 pm

Ethics flaws » Report, focused on Burning Man festival of 2015, offers no ID, but details point at ex-supervisor for Utah.

A new report by Interior Department investigators tags the Bureau of Land Management's law enforcement supervisor for Utah with various ethical lapses concerning the 2015 Burning Man arts festival and the hiring of a friend.

The unnamed agent based in Salt Lake City reportedly misused his position to acquire tickets for friends and family to the sold-out event, get them special access and assign a five-agent security detail to escort them around the festival venue in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, driving government vehicles.

While the report doesn't name the agent, the supervisory position it describes was then held by Dan Love, BLM special agent-in-charge for Nevada and Utah.

In recent years, Love has come under fire from Utah lawmakers and Gov. Gary Herbert over what they perceived as an arrogant, militarized attitude toward law enforcement on public lands. For many Republicans, including state Rep. Mike Noel who is vying to become the next BLM director, Love personified much of what rural Utahns believe is wrong with the agency that administers nearly half the state's territory.

Interior's Office of Inspector General (OIG) released the report Monday after 16 months of investigation triggered by complaints BLM staffers e-mailed to agency director Neil Kornze in September 2015, just a few days after the festival concluded.

The 15-page OIG report, which criticized the agent's "lack of candor" during his interview, concluded the agent violated federal ethics rules by soliciting gifts from "a prohibited source" and by using his official position to gain favors for friends and family. But more troubling was the agent's efforts to influence subordinates in the Utah state office before and after OIG investigators interviewed them as witnesses.

A BLM contracting officer and a budget analyst, both women, claimed the agent threatened to derail their careers and one took to keeping her door locked out of fear of him.

"You know, if you don't side with me, grenades are going to go off and you'll get hit," the agent reportedly told the budget analyst.

The reports names no one involved in the investigation other than Salvatore Lauro, who directs BLM law enforcement nationally, and Harry Humbert, then Interior's top law-enforcement official. Both men were present at the Burning Man festival in 2015 and personally witnessed the supervisory agent's father, family friend and girlfriend being driven around by BLM lawmen, according to the OIG report.

Love is a familiar figure in Utah and Nevada, where he led BLM's most controversial law-enforcement operations after joining the agency from the Federal Air Marshal Service a decade ago.

He oversaw Operation Cerberus, the undercover sting that resulted in the 2009 raids on the homes of several Blanding residents suspected of trafficking stolen artifacts, as well as BLM's failed round-up of Cliven Bundy's cattle, which led to an armed standoff with the rancher's militant supporters.

Since 2012, Love oversaw federal law enforcement at the late-summer counter-cultural camp-out in northwestern Nevada's Black Rock Desert, where 80,000 "Burners" and vendors congregate for a week of revelry that culminates in the incineration of a massive stick figure.

That year, the BLM was criticized for seeking to impose additional costs on festival organizers totaling $1 million to operate a "luxury compound" for BLM staff, a demand that Love had advanced, according to reporting by the Reno Gazette-Journal.

After Love took charge, the costs associated with law enforcement escalated out of control and the agency passed these charges along to the event organizer Black Rock City LLC, a subsidiary of the San Francisco-based non-profit Burning Man Project, according to filings before the Interior Board of Land Appeals, or IBLA.

Black Rock disputes up to $2.8 million in charges BLM billed, many of them associated with law enforcement.

"Over many years we have asked for an understanding of all the charges that BLM has charged us for our permits, and only recently have we gotten greater details. We believe there are things they can do more efficiently," said Burning Man spokesman Jim Graham. The organization is awaiting a decision from the IBLA.

The OIG report describes how the supervisory agent solicited the last-minute tickets for Burning Man for friends and family, who were interested in coming to honor the passing of a family member. After seeking discounted tickets reserved for locals, he wound up paying full price for the three tickets, totaling more than $1,200 from a small ticket pool that organizers reserve for special circumstances. The agent also got them special access inside an "inner perimeter" for the Man Burn, an area that is not open to festival goers.

According to the report, the agent also was found to have manipulated a hiring process to get a less-qualified friend, who once worked with him as an air marshal, hired as a BLM agent.

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