BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A senior official in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has been convicted on criminal charges that he covered up for an employee who left the agency for a job in Montana but kept drawing government pay.
John Grimson Lyon of Clifton, Virginia, was convicted of wire fraud, false claims and theft of government property following a three-day jury trial that ended Wednesday night in Great Falls.
The 61-year-old former state director for the Bureau of Land Management's 31-state Eastern States Region could face 35 years in prison, $750,000 in fines and the forfeiture of $112,000.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris allowed Lyon to remain free until his June 25 sentencing.
Prosecutors said Lyon knew or should have known that former employee Larry Ray Denny left his post in Springfield, Virginia, to work on oil and gas issues for Montana's Chippewa Cree Tribe.
Defense attorney Evangelo Arvanetes maintained his client's innocence in the wake of the verdict and said they would be seeking a reasonable sentence.
"John was a supervisor. He got no financial gain whatsoever by supervising Larry Denny," Arvanetes said. "I'm a little bit in shock of the decision, but I have to respect it as an officer of the court."
Denny, who received $112,000 in federal wages and benefits while working for the tribe, pleaded guilty last week to theft, fraud and other charges just days before his trial was scheduled to start.
After Denny left the Bureau of Land Management in July 2012, Lyon told employees that Denny had private medical issues. Lyon continued to certify Denny's work hours and sick leave at the Bureau of Land Management until Denny resigned in March 2013, prosecutors said.
The resignation came soon after Bureau of Land Management officials discovered the scheme.
It came to light when Don Judice, now the Bureau of Land Management's deputy Montana director, sought clarification from the agency's headquarters on whether Denny worked for the agency or the tribe, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Rostad said.
That triggered an internal investigation by Bureau of Land Management Montana State Director Jamie Connell that revealed 3,000 unopened messages in Denny's government email inbox, Rostad said.
Denny visited golf courses and traveled to Las Vegas and Arizona during the time he was reportedly dealing with health issues, according to prosecutors. In 2012, Lyon gave an "exceptional" job performance review to Denny that entitled him to a $3,200 cash award.
Arvanetes said Denny had continued performing work for the Bureau of Land Management during his time in Montana. The defense attorney said he was unable to quantify that work.
A decision on whether to appeal the jury's verdict will be made after sentencing, Arvanetes said.