Federal wildlife official from Boise pleads guilty to ethics violation

Stephen Barton, then Idaho Fish and Game budget chief, at an Idaho Legislature committee hearing in 1999.
Stephen Barton, then Idaho Fish and Game budget chief, at an Idaho Legislature committee hearing in 1999. Statesman file photo

A former senior official of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has pleaded guilty to falsifying reports to conceal a side job he held at an organization that receives funding from the agency.

Stephen M. Barton, 67, of Boise, received $377,000 in income over several years as treasurer for Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, a Boise-based nonprofit representing more than 20 fish and wildlife agencies in the western and central U.S. and Canada, according a Department of Justice investigative report.

Barton was working for the Fish and Wildlife Service as chief of administration and information management in the wildlife and sport fish restoration program. He earned about $155,000 a year until he was terminated within the past year, according to the report.

He worked for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game from January 1975 through July 2007 as its chief financial officer and assistant director, according to Idaho State Controller’s Office. He joined the federal agency in September 2007.

Barton served as WAFWA’s treasurer from 2004 through early 2014.

As a Fish and Wildlife Service senior employee, Barton was required to report any outside income in excess of $200, according to federal investigators.

In 2010, he signed a federal ethics form indicating that he worked about 10 hours a week for the fish and wildlife agencies and received no income from it. Federal investigators found, however, that Barton received income from 2008 through 2014 totalling $377,363, with the largest amount being $109,242 in 2013. Barton did not disclose this income on federal reports he filed from 2012-15.

During the time he held both positions, the Fish and Wildlife Service awarded the other agency about $3 million in grants and cooperative agreements. Barton admitted to investigators that he signed federal grant applications on behalf of WAFWA using the name of another officer for that agency.

The report said Barton lived in Boise while he was assigned to his federal position in Washington, D.C. His travel records show that over five years, he made more than 100 flights to or from Boise and received travel allowances for personal trips, costing the government $96,087.

Barton told investigators that his wife lived in Boise. He had asked his supervisor whether he could work from Boise full time; his supervisor did not approve, but instead approved Barton traveling home “from time to time.” Barton said the government paid for his flights home to Boise “most of the time.”

He also charged the government for travel to attend six Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies conferences, including one in Hawaii in 2012.

Barton admitted using his Fish and Wildlife Service office phone, cellphone, email account and other resources to conduct other business while on the clock for Fish and Wildlife. Barton told investigators that he did this “primarily out of convenience” and because the two jobs “merged together.”

He waived federal indictment and pleaded guilty Oct. 24 in Boise to one count of making false statements, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine. His sentencing is set for 10 a.m. Jan. 24 in Boise before U.S. District Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill.

Barton could not be reached for comment.

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell