Rural Wrap

Just Part of Doing Business With the Government ... and the Mob

By Dan Steninger

bjections by state officials to being labeled criminals by the Elko County Grand Jury have prompted the judge overseeing the jurors to release transcripts of the proceedings. Reading them, I have to keep reminding myself that those testifying are talking about the workings of government right here in Nevada, and not some banana republic or mob-run former Soviet state.

The grand jury—impaneled to investigate any criminal collusion between preservationist groups and federal land managers—has accused federal agents working with agents for the Nevada Division of Wildlife of the crime of oppression under color of office. Specifically, the grand jury found that NDOW persuaded the U.S. Forest Service to hold up plans for the expansion of a gold mine until the miners paid NDOW half a million dollars. One of the mining officials likened it to a stagecoach robbery. Those state agents have protested their innocence and hired an attorney whose first move was to demand copies of the transcripts.

Now, it may be a bit harsh to compare the testimony of the Nevada miners to the woes heard from Third World entrepreneurs. After all, the money demanded from Independence Mining for mitigation—a Latin term meaning, as near as we can translate, paying government officials to keep them off one’s back—wasn’t delivered in unmarked bills.

And, while I admit to being unfamiliar with operating in the locales where the rule of law is the whim of the ruler, I suspect that the officials in such places would not allow themselves to be haggled down to accepting only a third of their original demand. That’s what happened here, with NDOW originally holding up the mine for $1.5 million, then accepting the mine’s counteroffer of $500,000.

But the similarities remain: If Seņor Miner wishes to remain in business, Seņor will make the proper payments.

It’s just part of doing business with the government, explained one of the grand jury witnesses. The witness—another mining company official—was quick to add he felt nothing illegal had transpired. Which is another part of doing business with government agents: they make the laws.

Besides, the witness explained, Independence could afford the amount demanded by the Nevada Division of Wildlife. A half-million dollars is a relative bargain in light of the fact that if the mine had chosen to rebuff the offer-they-couldn’t-refuse—as another mine witness said was briefly considered—they would be setting their company up for losses in the range of $30 million. That was the estimated cost of shutting the mine down while the lawyers haggled over the expansion plans needed to keep the mine in operation.

Heck, even the original demand of $1.5 million would have been a shrewd "investment" in light of what the mine was paying to protect.

And in the analysis of Elko District Attorney Gary Woodbury, there is little doubt that it was protection money, pure and simple.

First, NDOW—using its friendly relationship with the forest service, which had the power to shut the mine down—said $1.5 million would be required to offset the damage to mule deer habitat in the Independence Mountains. But if that was the case, why, then, would NDOW settle for a third of what was needed? Does NDOW boss Willie Molini have a soft spot in his heart for miners? We’ve all heard Molini recount his heroic efforts in sustaining a few broken ribs while defending the honor of women and cowboys in a Fallon bar; now we are to believe his concern for miners transcends mere bodily harm and runs into the million-dollars-in-cash range?

And if such damage was being inflicted on the Independence Mountains, why was the money put in a bank account to earn interest instead of spent on the improvement of deer habitat? And why would some of that interest money be spent on projects 60 to 70 miles to the west of the mine?

The release of the grand jury transcripts isn’t going to go very far toward clearing the names of the government agents who asked for publication of the proceedings. With their actions now being referred to as "a stagecoach robbery," I’ll bet the government thugs will let matters stand at "oppression under the color of office," a much less descriptive term. u

Dan Steninger is editorial page editor of the Elko Daily Free Press


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