Attorney for Ex-Alcova Superintendent Wants Justice for Reservoirs, Taxpayers
Taxpayers and those who use the Alcova, Pathfinder and Gray Reef reservoirs deserve better from Natrona County's Road and Bridge Department, which allegedly defrauded the federal government, an attorney for the former superintendent of Alcova said Thursday.
James Barger Jr. lives in Birmingham, Ala., has fished and floated at Alcova and on the North Platte River, and said he's seen what Charles Lorass loved while superintendent from 1989 until his termination in 2011.
"We've been out there and we've seen it and we've talked to Charlie Loraas and we think it's a righteous cause," Barger said.
Barger and his law partner J. Elliott Walthall specialize in litigation involving the federal False Claims Act. They and H. Clay Fulcher of Dubois filed a lawsuit along with the Wyoming U.S. Attorney's office in October on behalf of Lorass.
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Alan Johnson of Cheyenne unsealed Lorass's portion of lawsuit. The federal government's documents are still sealed.
Barger cannot comment on the lawsuit itself, he said.
But he explained what will happen in the next 120 days.
"We will approach the county's lawyer for him to let us know whether the county is going to start behaving the way it should, and returning those resources back to the reservoir and the people who enjoy it," Barger said. "And if they're not going to, then we'll serve the complaint on them, on the county, and we will demand an answer within 30 days."
After the regular county commission meeting Tuesday, Chairman Bill McDowell said he had not seen the lawsuit. "We probably won't comment on the litigation after we get it; we'll certainly review it and make whatever decisions that need to be made at that time."
The lawsuit named the county as the defendant, but Lorass singled out the Road and Bridge Department, which has an agreement to manage the reservoirs for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Thousands of fun-seekers camp, swim, picnic, rent cabin and trailer spaces, rent boat slips, and shop, drink and eat at the marinas. The department charges for the use of these privileges and must use those revenues solely to make improvements at the reservoirs.
But the department did not adhere to the agreement, the lawsuit said, because Department Superintendent Mike Haigler allegedly had two sets of books: one for Natrona County and the other used for reporting to the Bureau of Reclamation.
The records for the bureau recorded lower revenues and higher expenses from the reservoirs than those for the county, according to the lawsuit. Those figures were used to justify grant applications for construction and maintenance. In effect, the government, taxpayers and reservoir users paid twice for the same improvements.
In the past decade, the county cited revenue shortfalls - and angered those who recreated at the reservoirs - when it raised fees on trailer and cabin spaces, the marinas and other facilities.