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Why would someone pay three times the market value for a rather ordinary home in a two-and-a-half acre lot near Mount Rainer State Park?

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David Uberuaga, Former Mount Rainier National Park Superintendent, Had Shady Relationship With Climbing Company

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Why would someone pay three times the market value for a rather ordinary home in a two-and-a-half acre lot near Mount Rainer State Park?

One reason might be if the person selling the home was the director of a park where the person buying it stood to make a boatload of money.

Such a relationship is fleshed out in detail by The Seattle Times in a story on former Rainier National Park Superintendent David Uberuaga--who's now the president of Grand Canyon National Park.

According to an undisclosed federal investigation, Uberuaga was disciplined in 2008, six years after after he sold a three-bedroom house and property off Highway 706 to Peter Whittaker, the president of Rainier Mountaineering Inc.

Whittaker paid about three times the assessed value of the home; and meanwhile, Uberuaga was responsible for crafting rules that ultimately let Whittaker's company maintain a monopoly on climbing services in the park (a roughly $4-million-per-year business there).

Times:

Uberuaga never recused himself from park-business dealings with Whittaker and repeatedly offered only a vague description of the deal on his federal ethics-disclosure forms, records show. When finally pressed for more details by a federal ethics officer, he continued to conceal that the man paying an unusually handsome price for his home also owned the park's largest concessions contract.

Investigators eventually concluded that Uberuaga "made false statements or concealed material facts" about the transaction. In late 2008, they referred the case to federal prosecutors in Seattle, who declined to prosecute.

Uberuaga landed his prestigious top job at Grand Canyon National Park this summer--a promotion signed by National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, the same man who signed Uberuaga's reprimand in 2008.

The relationship between Uberuaga and Whittaker went beyond just the one real estate deal. The two families were reportedly very close and three of Uberuaga's children at one point worked for RMI.

The chumminess was so bad that at one point Uberuaga was pulled off his duties overseeing concessions at the park "To ensure that ANY potential appearance of a conflict of interest is removed," Jarvis wrote.

For his part, Uberuaga told the Times that he's "confident with my integrity." and "I feel very good about 27 years of decisions that I've made," which is the typical generic non-answer of a man in a corner.

Regardless, the deal is long done and Uberuaga is set to oversee one of the Seven Wonders of the World on a six-figure salary.

 
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