DEC wildlife pathologist faces probe

Albany (AP) – The state inspector general has begun an
investigation into allegations that New York’s longtime wildlife
pathologist violated regulations, including living at his office
and using government resources for private purposes, officials said
earlier this month.

Stephen Del Giacco, a spokesman for Inspector General Joseph
Fisch, said a probe into Dr. Ward Stone’s actions has started. Del
Giacco said he couldn’t comment on the investigation.

The investigation began as the Times Union of Albany published a
story May 2 detailing complaints made against the 71-year-old Stone
by former and current employees of the Department of Environmental
Conservation.

Yancey Roy, a department spokesman, confirmed an ongoing
disciplinary action against Stone but said he couldn’t discuss
details. Department officials took actions to address potential
issues when they became aware of them, Roy said.

The allegations have been “distorted,” Stone said.

“There may be something to some of them, but not many of them,
and they’re all distorted in the way they’re presented,” he said
during one of two brief telephone interviews with The Associated
Press.

According to the report in the Times Union, Stone has escaped
any serious disciplinary action during more than 40 years as the
DEC’s wildlife pathologist. The complaints against him include his
moving into his office at the department’s Wildlife Resources
Center in Delmar, outside Albany, and using state funds to feed and
care for his pets.

Stone has also been accused of being abusive to staff
members.

Joseph Therrien, a department wildlife biologist who worked with
Stone from 1999 to 2005, said he told investigators about Stone’s
verbal assaults and misuse of state resources.

Stone made headlines during his 41 years at the department by
taking on state government over environmental issues. When
then-Gov. Mario Cuomo tried to reduce the wildlife pathology unit’s
budget in 1988, Stone’s supporters in Albany successfully blocked
the cuts.

The Times Union, citing internal department documents, reported
that Stone has lived for years at the pathology lab without
authorization. His secretary filed a Human Rights Division
complaint against Stone and complained to environmental department
superiors about having to work amid his personal belongings.

Then-DEC_Director of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources Gerald
Barnhart sent a detailed memo to Stone in June 2007, ordering him
to address violations of DEC policy including:

  • living at the Wildlife Resources Center in Delmar.
  • using state vehicles, state staff time and state equipment to
    prepare for a grade course work for classes he taught at SUNY
    Cobleskill and the College of St. Rose.
  • using DEC resources for personal business, including state
    vehicles to transport himself and family members for personal
    business.
  • storing personal firearms at the Wildlife Resources
    Center.

Stone’s supervisor for many years, Larry Skinner, sent memos to
DEC’s upper management contending that the state spent thousands of
dollars for the feed and care of Stone’s chickens and rabbits,
which were kept on site at the Delmar facility.

Documents show Stone’s personnel issues began early in his
career. In 1976, a secretary asked to be reassigned because of what
she called a stressful work environment fostered by Stone. He has
also received unsatisfactory performance reviews and as far back as
1978 documents reveal Stone was reprimanded for using a state
vehicle for personal business and then refusing to comply with a
supervisor’s order to halt that activity.

One DEC employee described Stone as “a renegade” who has long
been a headache to DEC, and an employee who refuses to operate
within the confines of state policy.

The Times Union story also detailed a 2005 incident in which
Stone shot penned deer with a .22 caliber rifle – Stone’s own
weapon – before the an Agriculture &_Markets inspection because
he didn’t have a permit to keep the wildlife. The incident came
shortly after chronic wasting disease was discovered in New York
state.

“It was inhumane,” said former Stone subordinate William S.
Hoffman, who observed the incident and took photographs of the dead
whitetails. Hoffman told the Times Union Stone instructed staff to
burn the carcasses immediately.

Stone continues to list his home address as a rundown property
in East Berne (Albany County), which town officials say he and wife
vacated years ago, the newspaper reported.

Stone denied he was living out of his office but acknowledged he
sometimes spent the night there.

“Very often I was here very late at night and I would nap here,”
he told the AP.

Stone, who earns $81,314 a year at the department, was relieved
of his supervisory duties several years ago and told to stop using
state cars, staff and equipment for outside work, the newspaper
reported.

“About all I have to say right now, is (the newspaper article)
really doesn’t have criticisms of my science or my work… over the
years,” Stone told the AP. “I stand by all that work and I stand by
my science, and I think I’ve been a real bargain for the state of
New York.”

Stone also dismissed the allegations as those from disgruntled
employees who didn’t like his hard-working ways.

“They did not have enough education and training to be as useful
to me as I would have like,” Stone said of those workers, adding
they spent time “zipping through the Internet” instead of
working.

(New York Outdoor News Editor Steve Piatt contributed to this
report.)

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