The Case of the Indian Trader


When I interviewed Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey for the book I’m writing about the Lunny family and its ordeal at the hands of the National Park Service, he said to me:

“If Senator Feinstein had not gotten involved, I have no doubt that this would have become just another ugly Indian Trader story.” (That was before it did.)

Kinsey was referring to the book by Paul Berkowitz, The Case of the Indian Trader.  The book reports on a Park Service investigation of Indian trader Billy Malone that was a clear abuse of power against an individual who had done nothing wrong.

Much of the story is based on first-person knowledge. Berkowitz was a criminal investigator for the Park Service at the time and was assigned to take over the floundering nearly two-year-old Malone case. When he reviewed the case file and began his own investigation, the story didn’t add up.  The case reports—and even search warrant affidavits—were riddled with false statements. Standard investigative procedures had been repeatedly violated, and millions of dollars in property had been illegally seized.  Berkowitz eventually blew the whistle, implicating the previous case-agent, his own supervisors, and several senior officials in both the regional and Washington offices.

In an excellent review of the book at the online magazine National Parks Traveler, Kurt Repanshek writes “Mr. Berkowitz peels back the luminous outer skin of the Park Service to reveal a dysfunctional culture, one that by his accounts has more than a few times placed itself above the law.”

That culture is not unfamiliar to those who have closely followed the story of the Park Service’s attempts to remove Drakes Bay Oyster Farm.

Drakes Bay supporters hosted a talk by Mr. Berkowitz in West Marin. Attendees reported a mix of feelings; appalled to learn that abuses of power by the Park Service are not uncommon, yet in a strange sense slightly comforted to learn they were not alone. Read the report by Dave Mitchell here.