A year after he was arrested, US prosecutors finally charged a California biologist with conspiring to embezzle money from the local Yurok Indian Tribe.
The founder of Mad River Biologists, Ron LeValley, is scheduled to appear in federal court later in November. Prosecutors have filed one charge against him. They allege that he was the head of a conspiracy, along with Yurok Tribe Forestry Director Roland Raymond, to take over $1 million from the Native American tribe through a highly complex scheme of invoices and work payments for jobs that were never done.
LeValley, and another biologist in the firm named Sean McAllister, were charged in 2012 in Del Norte County, California with embezzlement and conspiracy. Authorities allege that they were the instigators of a very complex scheme that allowed Raymond to take hundreds of thousands of dollars of federal money.
State charges against the men were dismissed earlier this year so that the federal embezzlement charges could be brought. McAllister had not been charged with a federal crime as of this week, and it is not clear if federal charges will be pursued against him.
Raymond pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to embezzle money from an Indian tribe and he faces a sentence of up to five years and a fine of $1 million. He gave his cooperation with the federal investigators that are focused on LeValley and McAllister.
His lawyer expects that the US Attorney on the case will give his client a lighter sentence in exchange for his full cooperation.
Federal authorities shocked the local biology community in 2012 when they served several search warrants in the county. They alleged that the three men had used a scheme to embezzle about $900,000 in federal funds from the Yurok Tribe.
The scheme had LeValley and Mcallister allegedly submit about 70 fake invoices from 2007-10, which charged the Yurok Tribe for wildlife surveys they never did.
The surveys mostly were for northern spotted owl research that were to determine which tribal properties could be legally logged. It is not clear if the conspiracy had any effect on timber harvest plans, or led to the destruction of habitat for the owl, which is a federally endangered species.
Federal charging documents stated that Raymond informed LeValley that he wanted to pay employees a bonus in 2007, and Raymond then suggested that Levalley turn in an inflated invoice to the Yurok Tribe.
Raymond got approval from the tribe in October 2008 for $100,000 of Endangered Species Act Surveys that were to be done by Mad River Biologists. Raymond told LeValley that the tribe lacked the funds to pay for forestry work and fire prevention. He then asked him to submit fake invoices for work that his company did not do.
The price of timber dropped in 2010, and Mad River Biologists billed the Indian tribe for $850,000 worth of surveys. LeValley funneled about $550,000 of that money back to Raymond, but he kept some of the money to pay for the operating expenses of his company.
Raymond is alleged to have spent the money he got on drugs and gambling.