FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The U.S. Forest Service is reviewing whether an eastern Arizona ranger whose tip led to the capture of two of the most wanted fugitives in America can receive $27,500 in reward money under the agency's ethics guidelines.
Apache Sitgreaves National Forest spokeswoman Pam Baltimore said Wednesday local forest officials would like to see the ranger get the money. But she said tentative word from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, is that he cannot.
She didn't know what the department's reasoning might be, but said ethics guidelines generally prevent forest employees from receiving gifts over $25.
"If it's a negative response from them as far as federal policy dictates, there's nothing we can do," Baltimore said. She added the ranger wishes to remain anonymous.
The U.S. Marshals Service and the operator of a privately run prison had offered a combined $40,000 for information leading to the arrest of three inmates who escaped from the state prison in Kingman on July 30.
One of the convicts was arrested Aug. 1 in western Colorado after an early morning shootout with police.
Two people who provided information that led to the arrest of the second inmate a week later in Wyoming have split $12,500 of the reward money, said Fidencio Rivera, chief deputy U.S. marshal for Arizona.
Rivera said the Marshals Service is waiting for a determination on whether the Arizona forest ranger is eligible for the remaining $27,500 in the capture of John McCluskey and Casslyn Welch, the alleged accomplice.
The Arizona Republic reported earlier Wednesday that the reward was in question.
The fugitives' trail had gone cold when the ranger was investigating what appeared to be an unattended campfire in the Apache Sitgreaves forest on Aug. 19. He noticed a beat-up Nissan Sentra backed suspiciously in the trees and had a brief conversation with Mccluskey, who appeared nervous and fidgety.
The ranger took down the car's New Mexico license plate and called it in to authorities, who determined it was stolen around the time an Oklahoma couple was killed in New Mexico. Authorities there had said McCluskey, Welch and another of the inmates were linked to the killings, and they later were charged in the deaths.
A SWAT team swarmed the campsite and arrested Welch and McCluskey. The Apache County Sheriff's Office says McCluskey told authorities he should have killed the forest ranger when he had the chance.
The Forest Service hailed the ranger as a hero but withheld his name, saying it believed he was simply doing his job. The agency also said that for safety reasons, the ranger did not want to be in the media spotlight.
The local sheriff's office honored a request from the Forest Service to withhold the ranger's name.
Baltimore said the USDA's Ethics Office could make a determination on the reward as soon as Thursday.
"We're not trying to prevent, from the Forest Service standpoint, our employee getting it," she said. "It's just a fact of life that that's who we work for, and policies are in place."