The state Department of Environmental Conservation's Division of Forest Protection has had a pattern of "supervisory shortcomings," according to state Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro.
The report alleges that this allowed for a forest ranger, Charles Richardson, to engage in widespread misconduct including having sexual encounters while on duty, stealing DEC gym equipment for use in his own gym, and commuting 170 miles each way to a supervisory job.
“The Division of Forest Protection’s rangers are tasked with protecting New York’s invaluable natural resources – a job that demands accountability and effective leadership,” said Tagliafierro. “My office found instead systemic failures including unsupervised and undisciplined rangers conducting personal business on the taxpayers’ dime. The Division has since enacted significant reform to ensure that those tasked with protecting our forests are continually held accountable for performing that role with integrity.”
This investigation was launched into Richardson in July 2019. The report alleges that Richardson engaged in “inappropriate sexual encounters while on duty on at least two occasions.” It also states that Richardson worked as a part-time police officer in Boonville, Oneida County, during the hours he was supposed to be working for the DEC.
The report also includes allegations that Richardson ordered the construction of “15 wooden jump boxes” for the DEC training academy in Pulaski and many were later found in his private gym Richardson co-owns called the Black River Training Company.
Richardson also failed to turn in on time, bi-weekly reports for 23 weeks in 2017 and 2018 as well as annual arrest and ticketing reports.
The report states that other than being counseled for late time sheets in 2017, no disciplinary action was ever taken.
Richardson also was found to not live in the designated district he was assigned. The IG’s office says the address listed in his file belonged to Richardson’s friend who stated that “Richardson rarely stayed there.”
The release by the inspector general’s office says that the DEC has now implemented disciplinary action against Richardson in response to these findings.
Additionally, a new acting directory was appointed to lead the Division of Forest Protection in January 2020 and a new deputy commissioner of public protection was appointed in April 2020.
The Division of Forest Protection oversees 5 million acres of public land and natural resources in New York.
In response to the report, a spokesperson for the DEC sent a statement saying in part, "DEC has no tolerance for inappropriate behavior, misappropriation of resources, or disregarding the policies in place to ensure the accountability of our professional staff and our duty to protect public resources. To address the issues raised in the report, DEC commenced a formal disciplinary proceeding on June 26, 2020. DEC is currently closely reviewing the report. DEC will take any and all appropriate actions upon the completion of our review of the report."
The Police Benevolent Association of New York State, the union the represents Forest Rangers, DEC officers, Park Police and SUNY Police also sent a statement in response to the report released on Tuesday by the Inspector General.
“We just received this report and are presently reading it; however, we are familiar with most of the allegations in this report as they are the subject of the disciplinary charges the DEC has initiated against Ranger Richardson that were referred to in the Inspector General’s press release," to Daniel De Federicis, Executive Director and Counsel at the PBA wrote. "These allegations against Ranger Richardson are just that – allegations – and presently unproven and in many cases uncorroborated, and refuted.
De Federicis continued, "Not only is this PBA fully backing Chad Richardson, but many of his fellow Rangers are backing him, and several made financial donations to help him during his period of suspension." This would not happen if they felt the allegations against him were true. The Inspector General’s report painted a negative picture of him based on allegations that were uncorroborated, and in fact in some cases refuted by other evidence. The PBA of NYS feels confident it will effectively refute these allegations when we have the opportunity to present the complete facts that for whatever reason the Inspector General’s report did not include or address. As this is an ongoing disciplinary action by the DEC, the PBA of NYS will not comment further on it, but we will reemphasize that we are strongly backing Ranger Richardson in this and feel the report unfairly accuses him of unproven allegations.”