NRCS whistleblower Valvo awarded settlement
Charges against producers in Pembina County, federal employees remain active
(Editor’s note: The following story is a follow-up to a series of stories involving Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) employee Anthony “Tony” Valvo that The Walsh County Record collaborated with beginning in 2010.)
Tony Valvo uncovered corruption that caused high level NRCS officials in North Dakota to be transferred and in some cases lose their positions within the Natural Resources Conservation Service. He was working for the Pembina County NRCS office as a geo-spatial analyst beginning in 2010. By December 2010 he was fired when he reported allegations of fraud, waste and mismanagement.
Valvo was in effect a federal whistleblower, but was illegally terminated by Paul Sweeney, N.D. State Conservationist.
“I was fired for whistleblower reprisals, basically,” he said. “That was what the settlement that I was just awarded pertained to.”
Under the federal “No Fear” act Valvo was not to lose his job, but the NRCS found ways around the law. In 2010 was placed on administrative leave and eventually fired. Valvo has been working for the Veterans Administration in New Mexico and was recently issued a settlement by the federal government due to the actions of the NRCS in Pembina County and North Dakota for wrongful dismissal.
Valvo was preparing to leave North Dakota when someone placed a box of spent 30.06 rifle casings near his car door. It was time to leave. He headed south June 9, of 2011.
Valvo continued the earnest fight with the NRCS and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in an attempt to prove the agency’s dishonesty and underhandedness. He was helped immensely by Dr. Don M. Huber, who is a professor emeritus at Purdue University’s Department of Botany and Plant Pathology.
“I wanted to believe that the Federal Employees of the NRCS/USDA in North Dakota were just a handful of people that thought they could get away with stealing our money. Since then I have met many more, and the trail leads to Washington D.C, and includes David White, the Chief NRCS officer,” he said. “I will give narrative to what they did, and will post the contributions on my FaceBook page this week, and open it to the public.”
While in New Mexico Valvo received helped from Democratic Congressmen Martin Hienrich. His expert staff including Stephanie Russo, and Chief of Staff Steve Haro, managed to get the entire case dismissed in three months. The NRCS decided the best course of action upon learning of Valvo’s whistleblowing tactics was to attempt to get his claims of civil rights violations against the agency dismissed and they did.
Valvo’s dismissal from the NRCS in 2010 was trumped up as the Pembina County office knew that Valvo was going to cry foul about the fraud, waste and mismanagement of federal funds to upper management and to any other federal agencies that would listen to help right the ship.
Currently, Valvo is collaborating with The Record and a colleague who is a computer analyst.
“We have more than 25,000 indexed Google searches, so we are telling the world of this story, and are doing it globally,” he said.
The story in the settlement starts with U.S. Congress and Representative Heinrich’s office in Albuquerque, N.M. In October 25, 2011 contact was made with the office through a staffer named Stephanie Russo.
“The staffer interviewed me, and collected the personal information Senator Conrad, and former Congressman Pomeroy’s office did,” he said.
According to Valvo, Heinrich’s office mailed him two letters, one acknowledging his visit and the second a willingness to help. The second letter was from the NRCS Civil Rights Chief, Sandra McWhirter.
“McWhirter’s letter assured me I would get a fair hearing. That hearing was conducted September 26, 2011. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Judge was Cheryl Kramer,” he said. “Judge Kramer told me that the NRCS settlement was not a good settlement.”
The settlement included the term “Global”. According to Valvo, “Global” is legal speak for everything.
“This was an attempt by Gretchen Clark, the attorney for the NRCS to dismiss the case, and the false claims charges which could end up being criminal and civil,” he said. “I declined Clark’s offer. Even though Judge Kramer told me ‘this is not a good deal for you,’ on the request of Gretchen Clark, Judge Kramer dismissed the charges. This was a bad day for me.”
Even though the case was dismissed Valvo didn’t give up. He made an appointment with Ms. Russo of Heinrich’s office and requested in writing the transcripts of that hearing.
“I was contacted by Heinrich’s Chief of Staff Steve Haro, who informed me that there was no record of the September 26 hearing,” he said. “I requested freedom of Information Act of that hearing and have not received a response from the EEOC, or the USDA?” I am convinced that Congressman Heinhich’s staff collaborated with the EEOC and NRCS to have my charges dismissed.
At this point Valvo was referred to State Senator, Jerry Ortiz Y Pino. The Senator was approachable and a New Mexico certified Master of Social Work. Y Pino met Valvo the next week after reading my his file.
“The first thing he said to me was ‘this has to stop,’” Valvo said. “He drove me to an attorney’s office, walked into the attorney’s private office and introduced me.”
The attorney the Senator choose was from former New Mexico Governor’s Bill Richardson administration, which included the Lt. Governor’s Office of Civil Rights.
According to Valvo, in five days she was defending him at a teleconference with a new EEOC Judge — Judge Powers. The NRCS had the same NRCS attorney, Clark. Two weeks after this hearing Valvo prevailed and was awarded a hefty settlement.
“Phase one Vilsack Vs. Valvo was settled in my favor,” he said. “The next act is for the false claims.”
The four Pembina County producers named in the false claims act will most likely be named after trial or settlement, according to Valvo. There are also two more NRCS persons named in the claim, he said, who will have to answer for their actions in regard to fraud, waste and mismanagement of federal funds.