BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A federal judge sentenced a senior official in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to six months in prison on Tuesday after he was convicted of covering up for a subordinate who kept drawing government pay after leaving the agency for a job in Montana.
John Grimson Lyon, the director for the BLM's 31-state Eastern States Region, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Brian Morris after a hearing in Great Falls, Montana.
Lyon was also ordered to serve six months' home confinement and pay $74,000 in restitution. The 61-year-old Clifton, Virginia, man was convicted by a jury in March of wire fraud, false claims and theft of government property.
Federal investigators said Lyon's deputy, Larry Denny, left his government post in Virginia to work for Montana's Chippewa Cree tribe but continued to receive $112,000 in wages and benefits.
Denny pleaded guilty to theft, fraud and other charges. His sentencing was postponed on Tuesday until July 29 after both sides asked for more time to review documents submitted in the case in recent days.
Lyon maintained his innocence and described his supervision of Denny as negligent behavior that did not warrant criminal charges.
But the office of U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter said the crimes were calculated and that Lyon abused his influence at the BLM to make sure Denny wasn't caught.
Prosecutors said Lyon threatened and bullied others at the BLM who attempted to intervene, then tried to conceal his actions with claims that Denny still was doing government work, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Weldon said in the government's sentencing memorandum.
"They ignored the values that catapulted them to the top of the BLM, they began abusing their power, and they ultimately cost the American people $112,305," Weldon wrote.
Lyon's attorney, Assistant Federal Defender Evangelo Arvanetes, had argued that prison would be too severe a punishment and a sentence of probation was appropriate.
Arvanetes said Lyon made no financial gain from the deal, and has suffered the ruin of a career that included a position as a tenured professor at Ohio State University and senior positions with the BLM, NASA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"Watching this man go to prison will be a travesty. Let us just throw every negligent or disliked or crappy government employee in prison," Arvanetes said in court filings.
Denny's attorney, Penelope Strong, said his crimes stemmed from a combination of pressures including an unspecified chronic illness and the death of his eldest son. His medical records were submitted under seal.
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 BLM until Denny resigned in March 2013, prosecutors said, soon after BLM officials discovered the scheme.
In 2012, Lyon gave an "exceptional" job performance review to Denny that entitled him to a $3,200 cash award, according to court documents.