Feds drop prosecution of landowner in Lake Mead road dispute
LAS VEGAS — Federal prosecutors in Las Vegas have dropped a criminal case against a landowner who was accused with a friend of illegally widening the only access to his property — a dirt road in Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Robert Earl Ford’s attorney, Vincent Savarese, said Tuesday he thinks the government didn’t have evidence, but filed the case as a felony last year and then reduced it to two misdemeanors in May because officials don’t like how he uses the property otherwise surrounded by federal land.
“My client turned down any plea … (or) a pretrial diversion agreement because he would have to acknowledge some wrongdoing,” Savarese said. “The government caved on the day before trial.”
Savarese is still asking the court to dismiss the case with prejudice, so it can’t be filed again.
The government estimated the road damage at $1,540, but the initial charge against Ford — willful depredation of public property — could have carried a penalty up to 10 years in federal prison.
In an Aug. 30 court filing, prosecutors said dropping lesser charges of disturbing natural plants and working without a permit was “in the interest of justice.”
U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden on Tuesday characterized the case as “resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.”
Co-defendant Todd Howard Tomlin, who drove the road grader, resolved his case with a pretrial diversion agreement requiring him to stay out of trouble for six months and to stay off federal land at Lake Mead recreation area. His admission, that he didn’t have a permit with him for the road work, wouldn’t result in a permanent criminal record.
Tomlin’s attorney, Lucas Grower, said Tomlin was glad to get the case behind him.
Ford told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he believes the government tried to strong-arm him into selling or surrendering his land.
Ford mines limestone and other minerals on a 215-acre section of the Anniversary Mine tract about 30 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
The property is wedged between the vast recreation area surrounding the Colorado River reservoir behind Hoover Dam and the Muddy Mountains Wilderness Area, which is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Ford told the Review-Journal his battle with the bureau began the year after he acquired the property in 2011. He said the federal agency sent him a warning letter about unauthorized road work after he put asphalt chips on the dirt road leading to and through his land.
Savarese said the charges were filed after trucks to-and-from Ford’s property chewed up large rocks on the dirt road, and Tomlin used a road-grader to smooth it.
Over the years, Ford has accepted and burned industrial waste at the property, and allowed a Las Vegas company to use it to let people fire heavy machine guns and grenade launchers. He was denied permits from the National Park Service or the land management agency for a three-day music and arts festival called Further Future.
His dispute made headlines in February 2015, after he locked a gate on his part of Anniversary Mine Road, cutting public access to a popular hiking trail through a nearby slot canyon known as Anniversary Narrows.
Savarese said Ford had to close the road because his insurance carrier was threatening to drop his policy unless he bought coverage for potential accidents by people using the road. The attorney said he wasn’t optimistic the government would waive his client’s liability for an accident.