Natrona County Denies It Defrauded Bureau of Reclamation
Natrona County's Road and Bridge Department did not submit bogus grant proposals to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for projects at Alcova Reservoir, the county's attorney in the case wrote Monday.
"This Defendant (county) never knowingly presented a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval," Scott Klosterman wrote in his answer to the lawsuit filed by Charlie Lorass, the former manager of the reservoir.
Likewise, the county never submitted false financial reports to the Bureau of Reclamation to obtain grants, Klosterman wrote.
"Relator's (Lorass) Complaint is is barred, in whole or in part, because this Defendant never knowingly made, used or caused to be used, a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim," he wrote.
Loraas was superintendent of the reservoir from March 1989 to March 2011, according to the lawsuit filed under the False Claims Act by his attorneys James Barger Jr. and H. Clay Fulcher of Dubois in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Wyoming on Oct. 17, 2013. U.S. District Court Judge Alan Johnson unsealed the lawsuit on May 1. The U.S. Attorney's office has declined to intervene in the case, and all documents in the case specifically related to the federal government remain under seal.
Loraas claimed the Road and Bridge Department filed false financial reports to Reclamation about Alcova, Pathfinder and Gray Reef reservoirs amounting to more than $1 million for grants and projects, according to his complaint: “While creating the appearance that it was operating the Reservoirs at a loss, the County has for the most part actually operated the Reservoirs at a profit and has diverted those profits to county uses other than Reservoir maintenance and operation.”
The bureau owns the reservoirs and the immediate surrounding shorelines where thousands of fun-seekers camp, swim, picnic, rent cabin and trailer spaces, rent boat slips, and shop, drink and eat at the marinas. The bureau has an agreement that the county can charge fees for these amenities and use those revenues solely to make improvements at the reservoirs.
But Lorass claimed the Road and Bridge Department did not adhere to the agreement and it:
- Falsified records when bought equipment with reservoir revenues and used it for other purposes.
- Used reports of the high expenses to justify the need for more money for construction and maintenance.
- Obtained grants from the bureau that in effect had the federal government pay twice for the same work and equipment.
- Did not repay misappropriated funds.
The county does not supplement their operations from its general fund. But the alleged false financials reports essentially created two sets of books -- one filed to the BOR and the other to the county clerk, according to Loraas.
But the county denied all these allegations, wrote Klosterman, was hired by the county. He is with the Casper firm of Williams, Porter, Day & Neville.
The county also wants the federal court to dismiss the lawsuit and enter a judgment in its favor, and to recover court costs.