Delta Conservation District responds to state Attorney General’s Office letter

ESCANABA — The Delta Conservation District has responded to a letter sent to the district in late March by the state Attorney General’s Office that suggested Former Delta Conservation District CEO Rory Mattson violated state law while working for the district.

The letter sent to the conservation district on March 20 states Mattson potentially violated Part 93 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, which creates and regulates soil conservation districts, by offering environmental consulting services to private clients and by acting as a paid expert witness in environmental enforcement lawsuits brought by the state against landowners. Part 93 is explicit in prohibiting professional foresters employed by a conservation district from using their position to “compete with a private sector business,” which the state argues Mattson did by providing these services.

“In sum, it appears that the District, through the actions of Mr. Mattson, has a long history of violating Part 93. This appears to have been done with the full awareness of the former members of the District’s Board of Directors,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Danielle Allison-Yokom, of the Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Division in the March letter.

Allison-Yokom also wrote in the letter that the attorney general’s office had concerns about the district’s financial management and record-keeping practices, but did not elaborate as to what those concerns were.

Mattson has denied any wrongdoing and has compared his testimony to tree sales or spraying for invasive species, both of which are ways the district has made money providing services or products available in the private sector.

No charges have been issued against Mattson, but Allison-Yokom’s letter suggested that the $50,000 per year in grant funding the district receives from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and additional grants from the United States Department of Agriculture could be at risk. She said Mattson providing services that would compete with consultants in the private sector entitles the MDARD to stop issuing the annual grants and to have each of the grants returned to MDARD per violation. Because Mattson is first known to have testified in a case in 2016, MDARD would be within their rights to collect $50,000 per year for the last eight years, or $400,000.

A refund, however, is unlikely. Allison-Yokom wrote that the issue could be resolved amicably if the district could provide a list of steps the board has taken to correct the district’s practices.

In response, the district provided a two page letter outlining the state of the district and listing nine steps the current board has taken to establish accountability, transparency, and compliance with Part 93. The list includes investigating and reporting possible criminal activity to the attorney general’s office and local law enforcement involving Mattson and his associates that includes “embezzlement, public records destruction, eavesdropping, false pretenses, tax evasion, license documents/pates – forgery, and Open Meetings Act” violations.

The district’s letter opens by explaining that Mattson’s contract with the district ended Dec. 31, 2023, and there are no district employees acting as consultants or witnesses currently. It then states that the district is unaware of many of the specifics of Mattson’s work as a consultant.

“The District is only marginally aware of Mr. Mattson’s private consulting work while working for the District since numerous email accounts were deleted prior to the new board being seated in June and August 2023. District meeting minutes never authorized Mattson to work as a consultant outside of Delta County,” wrote Conservation District Chair Joe Kaplan, noting that only one case was known to the district prior to Allison-Yokom’s letter.

Kaplan wrote that some records associated with Diane Mattson, Mattson’s wife and former conservation district manager, were recovered after Mattson’s time with the district ended. These included emails dating back to 2016 with Jonathan Moothart, an attorney from the Lower Peninsula who represented defendants in cases Allison-Yokom had cited. Kaplan said Moothart denied having a business relationship with the district, but records suggest he had been paid by the district, evidently on behalf of his clients.

Moothart also is said by Kaplan to have assisted Mattson in modifying Mattson’s employment contract. The changes indemnified Mattson from termination and entitled him to over $130,000 in bonuses and attorney fees. Mattson filed a civil suit over an alleged breech of contract related to these fees on March 29. However, little has been made public about the suit due to attorney client privilege and the nature of ongoing litigation.

Other actions by the district listed in the letter include hiring an accounting firm to run payroll and other financial transactions, a shift from finances and accounting being managed by Rory and Diane Mattson; requiring board members to use non-personal emails that cannot be deleted by the user; and making a number of technological and policy changes to comply with records retention requirements, the Open Meetings Act, and the Freedom of Information Act.


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