Las Vegas Sun

March 22, 2018

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Why Cliven Bundy tried to pay grazing fees to Clark County, not BLM


Steve Marcus

Cattle gather by feed at the Bundy ranch near Bunkerville Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016.

Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy reportedly owes more than $1.3 million in grazing fees to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for allowing his cattle to feed on federal land without permission.

But documents obtained by the Las Vegas Sun show Bundy tried to pay his debt — at least once. He just sent the check to the wrong government agency.

A check for $1,961.47 was issued to Clark County in March 1994 with the intention of clearing the Bunkerville rancher of grazing fees owed from March 1993 through that date. The check was returned with instruction to send it to the BLM, which he stopped paying after federal officials restricted grazing on the 500,000-acre, open-range Bunkerville Allotment to protect the endangered Desert Tortoise species.

The date is consistent with what federal officials say is when Bundy began allowing his livestock to graze on the land illegally, and the amount he paid to the county was the same that he owed the BLM for that one-year time period.

Bundy is on trial starting today, accused of leading more than 100 fellow ranchers and citizen militiamen in an April 2014 armed standoff against federal agents, who came to round up his cattle in response to the unpaid grazing fees. He faces life in prison.

Officials say Bundy’s family did pay the BLM from 1954 to 1993 for the right to graze on the Bunkerville Allotment. But after first unsuccessfully trying to pay Clark County, Bundy stopped paying altogether following the BLM’s mandate to protect the Desert Tortoise that restricted his cattle’s ability to graze on the land, his attorney Bret Whipple said.

Annual fees, interest and federal penalties accumulated over the past 24 years have driven his total debt “probably well over” the $1 million mark, Whipple said.

“The fees themselves are probably only about $40,000 to $50,000,” Whipple said. “But then of course it keeps doubling, then with the IRS and the government entities, you’re talking about an entirely different figure.”

A letter from then-Clark County Department of Finance Controller Guy S. Hobbs indicated the county returned Bundy’s check to him in June 1993. Hobbs in the letter told Bundy to send all funds to the federal government.

“Although Clark County is ultimately a recipient of fees for the (Bunkerville) Grazing District, the direct payee is the Federal Government,” Hobbs wrote. “As we do not know how the breakdown is calculated or what portion is retained in the process, it is necessary for you to continue submitting your fees directly to them.”

Hobbs, who now owns a financial planning firm in Las Vegas, did not respond to requests for comment.

Bundy has received numerous directives, court orders and lawsuits from the BLM demanding his cattle stop grazing on the Bunkerville Allotment, all of which his attorney said he has escaped or disregarded. Whipple said Bundy has not attempted to pay federal officials or settle any outstanding debt with the BLM since 1993.

Whipple added he did not believe the outcome of this month’s trial would affect Bundy’s outstanding debt with federal authorities.

Before worrying about unpaid fees, Whipple said Bundy is first concerned with the 22 felony charges — including conspiracy and impeding of federal officers — against him, which could result in the embattled rancher spending the rest of his life in prison.

“It’s kind of, we’ll cross that bridge when the time comes,” Whipple said.