While still in office, former U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey pledged to help developer Chris Milam buy 480 acres of federal land in Henderson — a deal that would conclude with Milam paying Abbey’s consulting firm a “success fee” of $528,000, according to legal papers filed this week in Clark County District Court by attorneys representing the city of Henderson.
The land deal, now under investigation by the Department of Interior’s inspector general, is a key element in Henderson’s lawsuit against Milam. In late January, Henderson sued Milam, land use consultant Mike Ford and three other Milam associates, alleging they conspired in a fraudulent scheme to win Henderson’s endorsement of the deal by promising to build a sports complex while actually planning to flip the land for commercial and residential development.
The new court papers filed by the Las Vegas law firm of Bailey Kennedy detail Abbey’s involvement in the land deal and his relationship with Ford, another former BLM official and Abbey’s partner in the Henderson land consulting firm of Abbey Stubbs & Ford LLC.
As outlined in court papers and interviews, Abbey and Ford have been friends and colleagues for 33 years and were partners in Abbey Stubbs & Ford when Abbey was tapped by President Barack Obama to run the BLM in August 2009.
Abbey took a leave of absence from the consulting while running the BLM, then returned to the firm on Aug. 1, 2012.
Though he lives in Mississippi, Abbey has deep ties to Nevada, where he was Nevada BLM chief from 1997 to 2005. He was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s choice for the agency’s top job in 2009.
Ford formally began working for Milam in August 2011, and a month later was hired by the city of Henderson to advise both sides on the process for nominating the BLM land for sale to a private entity and to work on BLM paperwork for the deal.
At the end of July 2011, Ford and Abbey attended the wedding of Ford’s daughter in Colorado.
On Aug. 2, 2011, one day after he officially went to work for Milam, Ford sent the developer an email with good news:
“I had a chance to visit informally with Bob Abbey at the wedding . . . Bob will stand down until we are ready to introduce the request formally, on behalf of the City of Henderson, but we can expect full support and cooperation at the local, regional and national level.”
Milam on Aug. 7, 2011, forwarded Ford’s email to other members of his consulting team and to Henderson city officials. It is included as an exhibit to support the city’s request for an injunction that would prevent Milam, Ford and others from using the land for any purpose other than an arena or stadium.
Abbey retired from the BLM at the end of May 2012. About two weeks later, on June 12, the BLM issued a formal decision accepting Milam’s bid — the only one tendered — of $10.5 million for the 480 acres.
Less than two months later, on Aug. 1, Abbey rejoined Ford at the consulting firm — which stands to land the $528,000 fee if the land deal closes. That closure, and the fee, has been delayed at least until March 28 because of Henderson’s lawsuit. The city’s injunction request will be heard March 18.
The city’s lawyers allege Abbey “is likely going to share in the contingency fee due” to Abbey Stubbs & Ford.
They allege that Ford breached his responsibility to protect the city’s interests and blow the whistle on Milam’s fraud because of the big payday to come.
“Ford is obviously blinded by the money that he and likely Abbey stand to earn once the sale is completed,” Henderson’s court papers said.
Ford’s lawyer, A. William Maupin, denied his client defrauded anyone. Maupin said the wedding day discussion between Abbey and Ford was general talk about the land deal’s benefits for the city of Henderson.
Abbey said he welcomes the federal investigation and is confident his name will be cleared.
“There is nothing to hide,” he told the Review-Journal on Thursday.
Abbey denies he influenced the BLM in the Milam land deal and described the allegations as “frivolous and slanderous.”
“It’s a well-orchestrated strategy to destroy my credibility. It’s character assassination,” Abbey said. “I had nothing to do with the moving forward of the land sale. ... I have not received one cent relating to this sale, and I have not had any conversation on how the success fee will be distributed.
“For the city of Henderson and its legal team to make these allegations is plain out frustrating. ... Someone will have to answer to this.”
But Abbey did not rule out taking a share of the success fee. He said he will contact ethics officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees the BLM, for guidance on that matter.
In its court filing, Henderson’s attorneys note that when Ford was retained for the Milam land deal, his consulting firm was a partnership with Barry Stubbs called Robcyn.
When Abbey returned to the partnership, the firm reverted to its old name, Abbey Stubbs & Ford.
Yet when responding to the Henderson lawsuit, Ford’s counsel filed with the court only Robcyn’s consulting agreement with the city, omitting an addendum explaining that Robcyn had become Abbey Stubbs & Ford, the city’s legal team argues in court papers.
That omission is notable, the city lawyers contend.
“Abbey is likely going to share in the contingency fee due to ASF upon transfer of the patent of the land,’’ the city’s lawyers wrote, “... and Ford does not want the court to know of this suspicious arrangement.”
When asked about the arrangement, Maupin denied that Abbey is a business partner with Ford.
Contact reporter Alan Snel at email@example.com or 702-387-5273.