The Oneida County Sheriff’s Department is recommending a felony charge of misconduct in public office be filed against Oneida County forest director John Bilogan, sheriff’s department records show.
Bilogan has been on paid suspension while the sheriff’s office conducted the investigation.
In a June 4 probable cause statement by detective sergeant Chad Wanta, according to the officer’s report, Wanta and detective sergeant Bob Hebein were assigned to investigate a potential theft involving Bilogan. Their investigation concluded Bilogan should be charged.
Specifically, the statement alleges that on April 15, Bilogan utilized a McNaughton inmate work crew to perform brushing on a portion of county forestland, which was being made into a town road leading to property Bilogan had recently purchased.
Bilogan had also utilized another employee of the forestry department, Christian Nehls, and county equipment, the report stated. According to the report, Bilogan was personally responsible for all costs incurred for the construction of the road because it was not a county project.
On that day, the investigation states, Bilogan accompanied a crew of 10 inmates and a wood chipper to the job site.
“Nehls said no one else from the forestry department knew where Bilogan was taking the work crew, as the previously scheduled work planned for the crew had been postponed because of road conditions,” the report stated. “Nehls said it was odd Bilogan accompanied the crew, as Bilogan very rarely does so.”
At 9 a.m. that morning, Nehls said Bilogan asked for the forestry department to bring a backhoe to the site because the wood chipper was stuck. For the next four-and-a-half hours, the back hoe pulled the wood chipper along the road, while the work crew and Bilogan threw brush in the chipper, the report states.
At the time, there was a proposed agreement between the county and the town of Enterprise to approve a town road for that stretch of logging road leading to Bilogan’s new property, the report stated. However, the town needed to approve the town road, and a final contract between Bilogan and the town had not been signed or finalized.
The terms by which Bilogan obtained the property in the first place also came under investigators’ scrutiny.
Previous owners Frank Stape and Bill Strom told investigators they had inquired with Bilogan about getting an easement to their property because they wanted to develop the property and build cottages.
“Frank and Bill said Bilogan advised that would never happen as the property was surrounded by county forestland and never be zoned to be developed,” the report states. “Frank said Frank and Lynda (Stape) decided to sell their 1/3 ownership in the land, as they were convinced by Bilogan the land was not worth much.”
Investigators were told that another 1/3 partner sold his share to Bilogan, leaving Strom.
“Frank said Bilogan advised (that) Bilogan would get Victoria’s (Strom’s) portion of the land through eminent domain,” the report states,
Strom’s husband Bill told investigators they did not want to sell their portion of the land.
“Bill said after Lynda and Thomas sold their portions, Bilogan threatened to make things rough on Bill and Victoria if they did not sell to Bilogan,” the report states.
Because they did not want a legal hassle, they sold their land to Bilogan, the report states.
Stape and Strom said they were upset when they discovered Bilogan had obtained rights to a town road to the property.
“Frank said the only reason he and Lynda sold their portion of the land was because Bilogan convinced them the land was not worth much and would never have easement rights,” the report stated. “… Both Frank and Bill felt Bilogan used his position and influence as county forest director to obtain their property and get a town road built to it, through county forestland.”
According to Stape, the property was never listed for public sale and Bilogan had access to information about the property that was not public knowledge.
Interviews with members of the forestry department turned up other accusations against Bilogan.
“Investigators were advised that all believed Bilogan had been taking wood for personal use from county projects that was supposed to go to campgrounds for firewood,” the report states. “Some employees said Bilogan would order the trees cut into 16-inch lengths and stacked near a gate on road and select pieces of the wood would go missing shortly later.”
A former forestry department employee, William Breivogel, reported that Bilogan had shown up at one project with a personal vehicle and trailer and ordered wood loaded onto the trailer.
Investigators also observed Bilogan had trapped a bobcat without a permit in 2007, but then contacted DNR warden James Jung.
“According to warden Jung, Bilogan had ‘questionable ethics’ in the past so warden Jung issued Bilogan a bobcat tag with the agreement Bilogan pay to have the bobcat mounted and display it at the Oneida County courthouse, for education purposes for the public,” the report stated. “According to information from other sources, Bilogan kept the bobcat in his residence for many years and recently brought it to his office.”
The investigators concluded there was probable cause to charge Bilogan with misconduct in office.
“As the Oneida County forestry department director, any request to gain easement to private property through county forestland would begin with Bilogan,” the report states. “Bilogan informed the previous owners of the property in question that an easement would never be granted, making them believe the land was not worth much and convincing them to sell.”
Even more, Bilogan threatened to make it tough on Bill Strom if he did not sell.
“Bilogan knew the previous owners wanted to develop the land and build cottages on the land, improving its value,” the report stated, “Once Bilogan obtained the land Bilogan restricted use of the logging road leading through the property.”
Bilogan then proposed a partial land exchange with the county to expand a portion of the property, which the previous owners had also requested but were denied, the report states.
The town road agreement then followed, and Bilogan clear cut the much of the property and listed the property under an LLC, indicating he intended to develop the property as the previous owners had wanted to do but were told by Bilogan they could not do, the report states.
Under the town road agreement, the report states, Bilogan was responsible for the costs. However, he used the McNaughton work crew, worked at the site himself, and used another county employee and county equipment.
“Investigators were advised that when the county approved authorization for easement rights to private property, they do so with the intent to benefit the public,” the report states. “In this case, it appears the only person who would benefit from the town road being built would be John Bilogan.”
According to Oneida County corporation counsel Brian Desmond, in an April 17 email to county human resources director Lisa Charbarneau, it was the DNR’s Manny Oradei who turned Bilogan in for using county equipment to build the town road to his house.
Desmond was trying to protect himself in the email, saying Bilogan would say Desmond gave his OK for the project, but that wasn’t true.
He said Bilogan did ask him if the town could “hire” inmates while they were working in the forest to brush out the town road.
“John also indicated to me that the town would pay for the time that the inmates spent on the project,” Desmond wrote. “I gave a verbal authorization conditioned on the town confirming in writing that they were going to pay for this time.”
But Bilogan left out some things, Desmond wrote.
“Here is what John did not tell me (I believe intentionally), that the county forestry wood chipper and tractor would be used on the project,” he wrote. “If I was given the full story I would have indicated that county equipment cannot be used for this purpose and the town would have to hire a private contractor for chipping of the wood or the town would have to use their equipment for it (if they have it).”
Desmond said he felt Bilogan was using him and he would only deal with him in writing from that point on.
“This whole deal has been a nightmare for me,” Desmond wrote. “If I am wrong in approving what I did, I will take my lumps for that, but I do feel I was lied to about this project,” he wrote.
Desmond said Oradei did not want to be implicated, but he advised Desmond a lot of unethical things were going on.
“Manny has also, on numerous occasions, indicated to me that there is a whole lot of other unethical behavior going on, but will not elaborate,” Desmond wrote. “Manny also indicates that the forestry staff is aware of other ethical issues, but are afraid of retaliation and will not say anything.”
At a minimum, Desmond wrote, Bilogan should be warned that there are boundaries that may have been crossed.
“I do not know if this rises to the level of other personnel matters that we have dealt with (i.e. former buildings and grounds director) but something needs to be done,” he wrote.
Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming “Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story” and can be reached at richardmoorebooks.com.