In March, J. Steven Griles, formerly the no. 2 official at the Interior Department, pleaded guilty to “lying to the Senate about his relationship with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.” Griles asked the lobbyist “for many favors for close female friends and in exchange helped Abramoff’s clients at the government agency.”
As part of Griles’s plea, he is supposed to receive “10 months — five months in jail and five months in a halfway house or in home detention.” His lawyers are now arguing that Griles should receive no prison time and instead be allowed to perform “community service.”
But one of the two organizations he wants to do “community service” for — the American Recreation Coalition (ARC) — is actually a major lobbying firm that apparently benefited under Griles’ tenure in the Bush administration. ARC leads the “Wonderful Outdoor World” (WOW) program, which has close ties to various federal agencies and the Walt Disney Co. Griles helped ARC set up WOW during his tenure at the Interior Department. Greenwire reports:
In 2003, Interior, U.S. EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the American Recreation Coalition and Disney signed a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to “work together in partnership on issues of common interest and to jointly plan and implement mutually beneficial programs and activities.”
As deputy secretary at the time, Griles directly oversaw the four Interior agencies who signed the document.
The National Park Service is a current sponsor of Wonderful Outdoor World, as are the Forest Service, Disney, the Coleman Co. and others, but WOW is spearheaded by the American Recreation Coalition, an organization that promotes access for recreation on public lands.
In addition to approving the WOW program, POGO Blog points out that Griles spoke at an ARC event in 2003 and partied with ARC president Derrick Crandall in 2004. Additionally, Crandall wrote to the judge in support of Griles, admitting that he “championed” ARC’s causes while at the Interior Department.
In his “community service” role with WOW, Griles “would raise money, develop new public and private partnerships and conduct outreach to the government and media.” Bottom line: Griles is asking that his punishment be to perform the same activities that landed him in jail.