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30 Year National Park Service Employee pleads Guilty To Theft Of Public Money

November 13, 2007

On October 31st, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Patricia Buccello, the former National Special Agent in Charge for the National Park Service, pled guilty to theft of public money for fraudulently obtaining money belonging to the National Park Service, U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor and Inspector General Earl E. Devaney, U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Inspector General, (“DOI-OIG”), announced today.

Buccello, 55, of Bar Harbor, ME, entered her misdemeanor plea to one count of theft of public money at a hearing today in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia before Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson. During the plea hearing, Buccello admitted to fraudulently billing the government for all or a portion of the airfare associated with personal trips she took between Washington, D.C. and Maine from April 2005 through March 2007. Buccello faces up to six months in prison under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines when sentenced by Magistrate Judge Robinson on January 9, 2008. As part of the plea, she agreed to reimburse the government for the costs associated with the personal travel as well as for other losses suffered by the government resulting from her conduct, totaling $10,864.95. Buccello has also agreed to resign from the National Park Service (NPS) and not to seek law enforcement positions in the future.

According to the factual proffer of evidence by the government at today’s hearing, which was agreed to by Buccello, since 1978, Buccello worked as a Park Ranger and Criminal Investigator for NPS, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior located at 1849 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. Between February 2005, and March 2007, Buccello was employed as the National Special Agent in Charge (SAC) at the NPS, which was a newly created position. For the 16 months prior to February 2005, Buccello had been the acting National SAC. As the National SAC, Buccello’s duties included managing all of the finance accounts for the NPS Special Agents, including supervising regional SACs, who in turn were responsible for approximately 45 NPS Special Agents.

To fulfill her duties as the National SAC, Buccello frequently traveled to various locations in the United States to attend conferences, meetings and trials. On April 6, 2007, the DOI-OIG received a complaint from a Special Agent of NPS alleging that Buccello failed to perform her assigned duties in order to obtain a free round trip airline ticket. The subsequent investigation conducted by DOI-OIG revealed that in March 2007, Buccello failed to appear as a representative of the Director of the NPS at a ceremony honoring fallen NPS officers in Jacksonville, Florida. When asked why she failed to attend the ceremony, Buccello informed several individuals including, Special Agents who attended the ceremony, her supervisor and DOI-OIG investigators, that her connecting flight had been cancelled after being stuck for hours on the tarmac in Charlotte, North Carolina. However, the investigation revealed that the flight in question departed only minutes late and that Buccello had voluntarily given up her seat in return for a free round trip airline ticket. The investigation also revealed that in July 2006, Buccello failed to travel to St. Louis, Missouri to deliver the fatality report to the widow of a fallen NPS Special Agent. Buccello’s failures resulted in a monetary loss to the government of $2,649.30.

Further investigation revealed that between April 2005 and March 2007, Buccello charged to the government all or a portion of the airfare associated with nine different personal trips between Washington, D.C. and Maine. The blanket travel authorization granted to Buccello due to her position as the National SAC enabled her to charge personal travel costs to her government credit card without the approval and knowledge of her supervisors. In addition, Buccello had not submitted vouchers for the questioned airfare costs which further enabled Buccello to charge personal travel costs to the government without the knowledge of her supervisors. The fraudulently billed airfare associated with the nine personal trips Buccello took between Washington, D.C. and Maine cost the NPS $4,265.21.

In announcing today’s guilty plea, U.S. Attorney Taylor and Inspector General Devaney praised the hard work of the investigative agents involved in this matter, especially DOI-OIG Special Agents Christine Parr and David Little. They also acknowledged the efforts of Legal Assistant Teesha Tobias, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald W. Sharpe, who is prosecuting this matter.
[Submitted by Don Coelho, Chief, Division of Law Enforcement, Security and Emergency Services]



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