Longlines and Gore
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1997:
issued by former U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service special agent Carroll E. Cox stand
up, senior officials of the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service have for at least six years
buried evidence of illegal threats to endangered
species on a scale that if exposed
could rattle trade relations, the primacy of
the Nature Conservancy in Western Pacific
conservation projects, and even the office
of U.S. vice president Albert Gore.
If Cox is lying, he says, “I’m a
zero, and my career is over. I’ll never work
in the wildlife or law enforcement fields
again, or any other field where people care
if you’re telling the truth.”
Having been already been fired in
1995 for allegedly taking bribes, it is possible
that Cox is already permanently out of
the wildlife and law enforcement fields.
“I have nothing to lose but my
good reputation,” Cox admits.
Whether or not Cox has a good
reputation is among the items at issue, yet perhaps not important.
He could be pond scum and still have the goods on his exbosses,
with ample motive––both revenge and the prospect of a
But Cox does have impressive credentials:
On December 15, 1994, Cox received the fifth annual
Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage from the Shafeek
Nader Foundation, formed by consumer advocate Ralph Nader
in memory of his father.
Explains the award certificate, “In 1990, Carroll Cox
was assigned to the Pacific Basin including Hawaii, home to
nearly 40% of U.S. endangered species. He forced a 90-day
shutdown of the game fish industry for killing species which
got tangled in the long fishing lines,” including whales, monk
seals, sea lions, albatrosses, sea turtles, and sharks.
“Failing all administrative remedies,” the certificate
continues, “he appealed to the public through the media, and
emerged with an enforcement victory. His investigations
revealed that high officials in the U.S. Trust Territory of Palau
were smuggling endangered species products from the
Philippines to Palau and, contrary to U.S. law, they were also
shipping sea turtles to Japan. His finding that most of the illegal
sea turtle trade originated in Palau saved President Bush,
who was set to sanction Japan for such trading, from a major
In addition, Cox “reported to Congress the designation
of wildlife refuges in Hawaii and Guam before cleaning up
contamination on a site or making an environmental impact
statement, as required by law. One of only 220 U.S. agents to
protect 700 listed species,” Cox “was denied a well-deserved
promotion. He endured shameful orders to falsify documents
and to ignore compelling investigations. Held in high regard
outside his agency, he suffered reprisals on the inside, including
denial of access to field sites and work-related meetings,
letters of reprimand, and personal slurs.”
Even after Cox was fired, he was still called as a
government witness in the June 1995 prosecution of Ronald
Bramble for illegal possession of eagle feathers, marijuana,
and a firearm. Bramble drew nine years in prison, one of the
stiffest setences ever in an endangered species-related case.
The $89,000 question
On September 22, 1996, Cox posted further details
of his own case to >>http://members.aol.com/jgard225/
index.htm<<, his America OnLine web site.
“One of the reasons given for my firing,” Cox wrote,
“was that I accepted the Callaway Award. The agency considered
this a bribe, even though another FWS employee,” Daniel
Moriarty, supported Cox with “an affidavit to the government
that he received an environmental award from Chevron and
traveled to Washington D.C. on government time to accept it.
His award was recognized and applauded by FWS.”
If anyone thought Cox’s position on sea turtles
reflected pro-Bush partisanship, that view was contradicted. “I
also reported,” Cox wrote, “that agency personnel were possibly
attempting to acquire contaminated land on Maui to be used
as a wildlife refuge so that President Bush would be viewed
favorably by environmentlists in his then-upcoming bid for
reelection. I reported that individuals in the FWS with political
favor were able to interfere and prevent necessary law enforcement
activities concerning Bishop Estate land on the island of
Hawaii, where the clearcut logging of koa trees was destroying
the habitat of endangered species. I was ordered by supervisors
to modify reports so that they would not reflect the actual number
of endangered birds killed or impacted by a major oil company
in Hawaii,” apparently Chevron, in one of the minor
skirmishes associated with the 1993-1995 PETA campaign to
get U.S. oil refineries to cap their vent stacks.
Cox claimed his efforts to continue cracking down on
the longliners were also thwarted. “The National Marine
Fisheries Service sent me a letter directing me not to interview
thair observers, who on many cases were aboard the [longline] vessels when the killings [of protected wildlife] occurred,” he
alleged. “The FWS response was, ‘We cannot enforce the
Migratory Bird Treaty Act in this manner.’”
Cox began challenging alleged corruption within the
Hawaii offices of FWS on January 28, 1993. “I initiated contact
with the Inspector General’s Interior Department special
agent, Gordon Peters,” he frustratedly wrote on November 28,
1993, to assistant special counsel Ralph Eddy, “to advise of
unlawful acts by field supervisor Robert P. Smith, Ecological
Service Division, and John Ford, Real Estate Division of the
FWS,” who were central to the purported Bishop Estate irregularities
and to a wildlife refuge acquisition in Guam that was
then under internal review.
Cox alleged that both Smith and Ford abused travel
privileges––and that Ford “had authorized the payment of a
sum in excess of $89,000 to a female companion, by breaking
the sum down into multiple payments to circumvent purchasing
or contracting rules.” The female companion, Cox said, lived
in California. “Marvin Plenert,” he continued, “the regional
director for Region One of the FWS, learned of Ford’s illegal
activities and had Ford resign from his position in Hawaii. He
then reinstated him,” in an office near his friend’s home.
Smith, Cox told ANIMAL PEOPLE, was and is a
hunting buddy of Thomas Reilly, then FWS assistant chief of
law enforcement and ecological services; both, he averred, are
Tennesseans and close to the Nature Conservancy, wondering
aloud whether they owe their positions to the recommendations
of vice president Gore during his years, 1976-1984, as
Tennessee member of the House of Representatives, and 1984-
1992 as U.S. Senator. TNC Palau representative Chuck Cook
is yet another Tennessean, according to Cox, who further
alleges that Cook with the cooperation of Smith and Reilly
helped to cover up wildlife parts trafficking through Palau.
The problem, Cox said, was that in 1991 he uncovered
“millions of dollars worth of turtle shells and dugong parts
going through Palau to Japan,” just as TNC initiated a fiveyear
program to develop a conservation ethic in Palau by working
with native fishers. With a human population of just
16,000, Palau is perhaps as much small town as nation. To win
the fishers’ trust, Cox alleged, TNC ignored both the wildlife
trafficking and aggressive poaching of endangered saltwater
crocodiles, apparently believing it could be stopped more
effectively through their program, which stresses sustainable
use, than through law enforcement.
“I was told, ‘You will not go back,’” Cox stated.
Cox was unaware until informed by ANIMAL PEOPLE
that since his dismissal, the USFWS on June 24, 1996
reclassified saltwater crocodiles to permit commercial traffic in
purportedly ranched crocodile hides. Cox immediately faxed to
ANIMAL PEOPLE a 51-page 1991 study by Harry Messel,
emeritus professor at the University of Sydney, Australia, and
Wayne King, of the Florida Museum of Natural History. It
documents the virtual extirpation of Palau saltwater crocodiles
by the combination of commercial traffic and deliberate extermination,
funded from the mid-1960s until 1981 by first the
U.S. government and then Japanese leather traders.
Messel and King recommended not only that the
crocodiles remain protected, but also that captive breeding be
used to rebuild their numbers.
On June 12, 1994, Cox complained to William
Stelle, assistant to President Bill Clinton for environmental
issues, that “Even though the complaints [raised in 1993] have
been brought to the attention of Interior Secretary Bruce
Babbitt and FWS director Mollie Beattie, they are still unresolved.
The named individuals have been given the opportunity
by FWS to repay any monies that were improperly spent. One
of the parties named in my complaint is also being considered
for promotion. I have been harassed and retaliated against,”
which “has caused me to go on voluntary leave without pay.”
In the November 1993 letter, Cox also accused his
immediate supervisor, Ernie Mayer, of improperly using a
government vehicle. Mayer, an informed source told A N IMAL
PEOPLE, in turn accused Cox of harassing him. On
August 24, 1994, Joseph G. White of Kaneohe, Hawaii, complained
to FWS regional director Mike Spear that Mayer had
improperly harassed his wife, an FWS employee, apparently
after an altercation over a parking space. The charge was
investigated by FWS Division of Law Enforcement chief John
Doggett, assisted, according to Cox, by one Steve Middleton.
Evidence custodian Michael M. Hart, 51, a 20-year
FWS staffer, was a key witness against Mayer in both the Cox
case and the White case. Cox asserts that Hart too was subjected
to “intense” harassment. On December 8, 1994, just before
Hart was to testify for Cox at a deposition hearing, cleaning
personnel at the Prince Kuhio Federal Building in Honolulu
f o u nd his body, shot through the chest with a gun Cox had
confiscated in a prior criminal case. Last seen alive at 9:18
p.m. the previous evening, Hart apparently left no suicide note,
but did leave a wife and daughter.
“The man reportedly had work and financial troubles,
police said,” according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin &
Advertiser. Middleton’s handwritten notes, supplied to ANIMAL
PEOPLE by Cox, indicate that he and Mayer both came
to work at 8:00 a.m.; the cleaners told Middleton of the discovery
of the body seven minutes later. Middleton informed
Mayer of the death at 8:21. The Honolulu police arrived at
8:34. Middleton had already asked building security to evacuate
the building, “preserving scene,” the notes mention twice.
A cryptic mention of “.41 caliber revolver” and “table in middle
of room” seems to suggest that Hart or whoever fired the fatal
shot managed to put the gun down neatly, in an obvious place.
The trajectory of the shot, Middleton wrote, was “reasonably
level, slightly to left center. Both hands had gunshot residue.”
Hart’s apparent motive for suicide was a November
29 letter from David L. McMullen, FWS Assistant Regional
Director for Law Enforcement. “This is a notice of proposed
adverse action issued in accordance with Part 752 of the Office
of Personnel Management regulations,” it opened. “In order to
promote the efficiency of the Federal service, it is proposed to
remove you from the USFWS or otherwise discipline you, at
any time after 30 full calendar days from the date you receive
this notice. This proposed adverse action is based on the fact
that you knowingly provided false and misleading information
to Service investigators who were conducting an official
inquiry into an allegation of wrongdoing on the part of your
supervisor, Ernie Mayer.”
Hart was accused of having “fabricated the context of
a conversation,” committing perjury in a written affidavit, and
claiming he worked when on leave, all during interviews conducted
by Doggett and special agent Marie Palladini on
September 20-21, in connection with the White case.
The USFWS, National Marine Fisheries Service,
well-placed individuals within both agencies, representatives
of non-governmental organizations working in Hawaii and
Palau, and a variety of other potential sources all failed to
respond to invitations for comment. Individuals were asked for
background either on or off the record.
ANIMAL PEOPLE also enlisted help from investigative
freelance Jessica Speart, known for award-winning
probes of wildlife law enforcement. A week after making
inquiries, getting no more response than ANIMAL PEOPLE
did, she shared her limited findings. “Nobody wants to talk,”
Speart said. “I don’t know what the story is, but everyone is so
wary of the Cox case that it makes me think something is going
on. It’s worth looking into.”
Speart said she had learned that Cox was “definitely
not part of the good old boy network,” and upon arriving in
Hawaii had jumped right into investigations that had daunted
other USFWS agents.
ANIMAL PEOPLE looked into it as far as we could
without powers of subpoena and/or a significant budget for
traveling, interviewing, and setting up undercover stakeouts.
We ended up with little more than Cox’s own story,
partially supported by documents he supplied, newspaper clippings
found in archival searches, and articles in scientific and
professional journals about fisheries and wildlife management.
While Cox could not document all of his contentions,
many of which may come down to one person’s word against
another, we found no contradictory information.
The Honolulu Sunday Star-Bulletin & Advertiser o f
January 27, 1991, affirmed Cox’s role in the crackdown on the
Hawaii-based longliners. Reporter Jan TenBruggencate found
independent sources, including two longline fishers, who confirmed
the allegation that longliners were killing endangered
monk seals and albatrosses. The monk seals were killed by
accident, when they tried to steal fish and got hooked.
Albatrosses were deliberately poisoned and shot.
TenBruggencate also verified weak FWS and NMFS
enforcement of fishing laws off Hawaii. “Since the [on board] observer program started in November 1990,” TenBruggencate
wrote, “there has been only one person assigned to the duty.
Even the single observer has often been unable to get aboard
fishing craft for one reason or another.”
Explained George Boehlert, head of the NMFS’
Honolulu laboratory and supervisor of the observer program,
“There are many exemptions. The boat may be considered
unsafe, and we won’t put a federal employee on it. Or there
isn’t bunk space. On those vessels lacking observers, we can’t
know what they’re doing.”
Cox recently sued FWS, he says, alleging he was a
victim of racial discrimination as well as whistleblower retaliation.
An Afro-American from rural Mississippi, he was among
the first Afro-American investigators within the FWS, and was
surrounded on the job by Caucasian southerners.
Sooner or later, Cox avers, he will have his day in
court, when he will get the chance to present evidence and
cross-examine witnesses. That may establish the veracity of his
personal claims, about harassment and discrimination. But
Cox’s case as an individual may only fringe on the wildlife
issues, depending on how much the judge believes it is necessary
to investigate to decide whether or not Cox was genuinely
“That should concern everybody,” Cox concludes.
“My case is one thing, for me as a private person, but the
greater issue is whether rare and endangered species of wildlife
can be protected under the law as they are supposed to be. If I
am right, the people who are supposed to be enforcing the law
are helping wrong-doers who harm these species to flout the
law. That must be exposed, and it must stopped.
“If I’m wrong, then everything I’ve done was for
nothing. What have I gotten out of it, besides trouble that I
could have avoided if I’d just gone along with the system?”