FAWNSKIN, Calif. Â«Ã‰â€ Biologist Robin Eliason has been a model employee of the U.S. Forest Service since 1989, winning a certificate of merit every year and establishing a reputation as the government's expert on bald eagles in the San Bernardino National Forest.
But now Eliason, her husband, Scott, a Forest Service botanist, and their boss, San Bernardino National Forest Supervisor Gene Zimmerman, have had to hire their own attorney to defend them in a lawsuit accusing them of racketeering.
San Diego businessman Irving Okovita, who filed the suit, alleges that the Eliasons, Zimmerman and Sandy Steers, a local environmental activist, engaged in a criminal conspiracy to block the Marina Point development, a luxury condominium project Okovita wants to develop with an Arizona company in this hamlet on the north shore of Big Bear Lake.
Okovita sued under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a statute originally passed in 1970 to strengthen the government's arsenal against mobsters and drug lords. As time has passed, the law has been used against a variety of individuals and groups. Legal experts, however, said they believed this was the first time the law had been targeted at Forest Service employees.
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