Liberals often complain about the greed of profit-seeking corporations, while conservatives likewise complain about abuses by government officials. Both sides might take notice of something that seems to epitomize the worst of both worlds – government agencies that use their power to bolster their own budgets.
An eye-popping example — filled with allegations of fraud, corruption, and official misconduct — is unfolding in a northern California legal case involving state and federal efforts to secure a massive financial settlement from the state’s largest land owner, Sierra Pacific Industries.
Authorities say a bulldozer from a subcontractor working for the Shasta County-based lumber company sparked the “Moonlight Fire” that burned 65,000 acres in northeast California in 2007. Sierra Pacific has long denied responsibility for it, but after a courtroom setback, the company agreed to a $55 million settlement and agreed to give the government 22,500 acres – much less than it could have owed if it lost a prolonged court battle.
But earlier this month, the government’s case continued to unravel. Sierra Pacific filed a 100-page motion with the U.S. District Court accusing prosecutors of fraud and a cover-up — and asking it to vacate the settlement.
Its filing included a 15-page declaration from a former U.S. Justice Department prosecutor who argued that it was the first time in his long career that he “was pressured to engage in unethical conduct as a lawyer.” E. Robert Wright said he was removed from the case given his “zero tolerance of litigation misconduct by the government.”
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