We first covered this June 4, but now there are new developments.Here is an excerpt from at article at The State.com:
WASHINGTON — A senior federal official, fearful of incurring a congressman’s wrath, sent subordinates on a mad dash earlier this year to retrieve a certified letter demanding payment of $5,773 for starting a fire that burned 20 acres of a national forest.
Mark Rey, undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources, said he didn’t want U.S. Rep. Henry Brown to receive the March 12 letter before he testified before a U.S. House committee on which the South Carolina Republican sits.
“I’d just as soon have him not take a chunk of hide out of me,” Rey said Wednesday.
Rey confirmed the actions of Forest Service collections agents as outlined in internal agency documents McClatchy (newspapers) obtained.
The disclosures flesh out Brown’s four-year protest of a criminal citation and civil damages collection for a controlled burn he started March 4, 2004, on his Berkeley County property that spread to the adjoining Francis Marion National Forest.
Rey defended his decision to intercept the letter as “a reasonable precaution” to prevent Brown from “stewing on it while he’s sitting up there on the dais” of the U.S. House Natural Resources subcommittee, which oversees management of national parks and forests.
As a result of Brown’s case, the Forest Service in June rewrote a criminal code to make it more difficult to prosecute people who negligently set fires on federal land — about 80 fires a year in the South alone.
“It will be much harder for us to go after people who allow fires to escape from their property onto the national forests,” said Jack Gregory, who was the Forest Service’s top law enforcement agent in the 13 Southern states at the time of Brown’s 2004 fire.