Dan Snyder couldn’t see the Potomac River from his mansion, so the Washington NFL team’s owner exploited his government connections to do something about it.
Snyder, who’s pegged in Deadspin as a “horrible rich person” cut down 140 trees behind his Maryland estate – even though the trees were on national park property – and wrecked a park ranger’s career in the process.
Deadspin reports that in June of 2004, P. Daniel Smith, National Parks special assistant, and his National Park Service colleagues, which included the C&O Canal’s new interim superintendent, Kevin Brandt, met with Snyder and his attorney at his mansion to work out a deal to remove the trees.
Smith was a special assistant to Fran Mainella, who, in 2001, President Bush tapped to run the NPS. Smith and his colleagues agreed to grant Snyder a special use permit to clear 200 feet of trees on the slope behind his house, on the condition that he replace them with 600 native saplings, according to the Washington Monthly, the magazine that reported the full story. Also reported was the fact that no one had sought the proper permits or commissioned an environmental assessment, and they ignored a recommendation from the park’s horticulture specialist that cutting the trees would have adverse affects on the ecosystem.
When Robert Danno, a distinguished NPS veteran, received a complaint from one of Snyder’s neighbors about the trees being chopped down, he brought it to the attention of his boss, Brandt, and requested permission to investigate. Brandt said he would take care of the matter.
After some time passed, Danno pressed his superiors again about the complaint and also relayed complaints from more of Snyder’s neighbors. He was ignored. After about a year, in 2005, Danno was reassigned to a desk job at the George Washington Memorial Parkway as the NPS conjured disciplinary charges against him.
Danno was reassigned again by Brandt: He was forced to process parking tickets two hours away from his house.
Danno filed a formal whistleblower complaint with the Office of Inspector General of the NPS. The office reviewed Danno’s complaint and found that “the report called NPS’s permission to allow the tree cutting an ‘unprecedented decision’ resulting from ‘undue influence’ and said that Smith had ‘inappropriately used his position to apply pressure and circumvent NPS procedures.’ It said Brandt had told investigators that he had agreed to go along with the plan so as to be a ‘team player’… so soon after taking the job. Snyder was found to have broken no law, although he was ultimately forced to reimburse the park $45,000 in maintenance costs and pay $37,000 to a tree bank.”
According to the Washington Monthly's story, Danno suffered retaliation:
“In August of 2007, while Danno was in Colorado Springs for his son’s first day at the Air Force Academy, his West Virginia farm was raided by U.S. Marshals. He flew home, only to find out that the feds had issued a warrant for his arrest and had classified him as a threat to the public, and perhaps himself. Danno spent a night drinking alone on his boat in the Potomac, and in the morning sped upstream to the C&O Canal boat launch, where he was arrested by an NPS SWAT team and charged with theft of federal property."
Smith was eventually reinstated as a concessions manager at another park, but the damage was already done: Snyder’s tree cutting exhibition ruined everything.