Man Arrested for Permit Fraud

A California man was arrested Sunday, June 18, 2006, at Lee's Ferry, Arizona, accused of illegally obtaining river permits to raft the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park. He was taken into custody without incident at the River Trip Orientation Center.

According to information released by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix, Stephen E. Savage, 61, of Diamond Bar, Calif., was charged with 11 criminal counts relating to fraudulently obtaining noncommercial river permits to raft the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. Also sought was co-defendant Timothy J. O'Shaughnessy, 45, of Whitewater, Calif., who was apprehended Tuesday and turned over to the U.S. Marshall’s Service.

Apparently, Savage used false identification in the name of a deceased person who had been on the waiting list for a permit. The charges are all misdemeanors. A conviction for giving false or fictitious information on an application for a noncommercial river permit for the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $5,000 fine and/or five years probation. A conviction for knowingly and intentionally conspiring to violate the terms and conditions to obtain a noncommercial river permit carries the same penalty.

Joe Alston, Superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, notes "Over 7,000 people are on a waiting list for private river permits. Those who abuse the system do so at the expense of those who have gone through the process and have waited for many years to take a trip. We have a responsibility to boaters who go through the process to investigate charges of abuse."

However, arrests for fraud of this type are extremely rare, says Tom Martin, co-director of the wilderness rafting advocacy group River Runners for Wilderness. "I haven't heard of anything like this happening in the last fifteen years" noted Martin, who also observed, "The Park procedures for assuring valid permit issuance are strict and not easily circumvented."

Martin worries this type of illegal activity may spill over into the commercial sector in the coming years, given the new rule in place for all visitors, commercial passengers and noncommercial river runners alike, which only allows one trip per year. The concessionaires will be monitoring and administering the rule for their customers, while the Park will police noncommercial rafters.

According to Park Service figures, about 2% of those on the waiting list die before winning a permit. Also according to the Park, those who succeed in getting a noncommercial river permit wait between 10 to 15 years or more, although this year the park has instituted a weighted lottery system to distribute permits in lieu of the waiting list. The Park admits many individuals on the waiting list and in the new lottery will not get a permit at all, prompting speculation by Martin that frustration with the system, and resulting attempts to circumvent it, may be on the increase.