From the failed savings and loan bailout racket to the stately giant redwood trees of Humboldt County, California, the story of the predator corporation Maxxam — Pacific Lumber someday may make a movie on corporate arrogance and abuse. The storyline has taken a bizarre twist today, some years after Maxxam bought out a family-owned lumber company and accelerated, to great opposition, the cutting of these ancient trees.
It seems that a newly elected county district attorney, Paul Gallegos, is irritating the lumber giant for bringing a suit charging Pacific Lumber with filing a false timber harvest plan in order to obtain a global logging permit for their property. The company, he charges, had information about the environmental impact of their logging proposal that they were legally obliged to give to the Californian authorities but did not.
Richard Wilson of the California Department of Forestry publically declared that if he knew about this withholding of material information at the time he signed off on the permit, he would have rejected the permit application.
The owners of Pacific Lumber decided to rid themselves of this prosecution for fraud by starting a recall of the elected Paul Gallegos. So they backed a commercial signature gathering firm which is charging $8 a signature to place this recall on the ballot. It is remarkable what this artificial legal entity, called a corporation, can get away with. Imagine a real person charged with fraud trying to recall the prosecutor.
Well, Pacific Lumber, using fear tactics of mass layoffs, may not get away with this camouflaged campaign charging the D.A. with being soft on crime, when he is prosecuting corporate crime. Mr. Gallegos says the pollsshow he is ahead by 60 to 40. Why so close? The signature gatherers and the propaganda campaign are deceiving people that the petition is about anti-rape legislation or to repeal vehicle license faxes. Over 90% of the money for this recall campaign comes from Pacific Lumber.
Known for playing hardball, Pacific Lumber is scaring its hundreds of workers into complaining about the lawsuit and its impact on their jobs. Of course if the workers owned the company, they would realize that a genuine sustainable yield would keep their jobs for a much longer time for themselves and their children.
The recall election is on March 2, 2004. The question in the minds of many in the County is whether the judge will decide this long overdue case before or after that date. Mr. Gallegos is demanding restitution at a level of $230 million for the value of those logged trees and the resultant environmental damage that would not have occurred had the company told the necessary truth to the state forestry officials.
In an interview with the Corporate Crime Reporter, Gallegos said that this is not a “liberal versus conservative issue.” It is about “who owns local government. Historically, the feeling has been that it has been owned by a select few. We stand for the idea that it belongs to the people in this community.”
He added that Humboldt was a “remote, historically isolated community.” So much so that Pacific Lumber owns one town — Scotia — down to every house and the shopping center, he said.
Company towns are not new in our country. They range from the paper mill towns of Maine to the copper-mine towns of Montana and Arizona to the textile company dominated towns in North and South Carolina.
But Pacific Lumber, as a corporate defendant, is pushing the envelope by trying to recall its prosecutor.
For further information, contact Friends of Paul Gallegos, P.O. Box 135, Eureka, California, 95501. Phone: (707) 444-6220. E-mail: [email protected].