After six years of legal maneuverings in the Alaska court system and who knows how many tens of thousands of dollars spent on attorney fees, former Alaska Gov. Bill Walker’s best-known appointee to the state Board of Fisheries has finally admitted to being a big, fat liar.
As part of a plea agreement with the state Department of Law, Roland Maw on Friday dropped his claim that someone masquerading as him – or a ghost in his computer – electronically filed for Permanent Fund Dividends (PFD) for years while Maw was claiming to be a resident of the state of Montana.
In return, the state dropped 12 felony PFD charges that had been filed against Maw and accepted a plea of guilty on one count of “unsworn falsification in the second degree,” a misdemeanor.
Juneau Superior Court Judge Amy Mead then ordered Maw pay a $500 fine plus $9,582 in restitution to the state for the illegally collected PFDs and to cover the difference in costs between resident and nonresident hunting and fishing licenses.
The total of $10,352 is $3,107 more than the state of Montana fined Maw seven years ago for lying about his residency there to illegally obtain “resident conservation/fish, deer, elk, migratory and/or upland bird licenses” for a span of seven years.
The biggest penalty Maw paid for his lying ways might have come in the loss of a profitable relationship with the state of Alaska that ended after he was discovered to be Montanan. State records show that Maw pocketed $120,002 in 2013, $154,657 in 2014, and $164,090 in 2015 to run the state “test boat” operation used to make in-season determinations on the size of sockeye returns to the Kenai and Kasilof rivers.
Discovery of his claim to be a Montanan would have cost him the 5 percent Alaska-resident preference for bidding on state contracts, though it is unknown at this time whether he had been claiming it when submitting bids.
More importantly, the state decided to stop doing business with the Montana-Alaskan and former director of the United Cook Inlet Drifters Association (UCIDA) despite the cozy arrangement between UCIDA and the state agency. They share office space in the same building at 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Road in Soldotna.
Mead did prohibit Maw from filing for future PFDS and made an effort to convince him that he’d been handed a meaningful punishment in Alaska “because (this) is a crime of dishonesty, and I use that in the legal sense.
“I think the fact that you’re walking away with a conviction is very significant.”
Dishonesty, unfortunately, has never seemed a major concern of the former Canadian university professor who in a bid to become the Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game once claimed to be one of those rare individuals who discover an endangered species.
A history of dishonesty
Caught in that smallish fib in 2015, Maw made new claims that a reporter had somehow tricked him into saying “that (the discovery of the endangered bull trout) comes from a book I published. The American Fisheries Society quotes it as the original description (of bull trout). … I was just going off some references in the Journal of Fisheries Science. They quoted it in there as the reference.”
The Fisheries Society has never made any such reference. The 1978 identification of the bull trout, a cousin of the Dolly Varden char, is credited by all sources to Ted Cavender of Ohio State University. Maw in that 2015 interview also said he’d never heard of Cavender and went on to assert that if Cavender had discovered the Dolly Varden-like species the Fisheries Society in 1980 officially recognized as the bull trout, it must have been different from the bull trout Maw discovered in Canada in 1985.
“He (Cavender) may have described it,” Maw said at the time, “but ‘bull trout’ is a common name.
“That far south, knowing something about bull trout, that could be an entirely different species. … Did I or Jim (Butler) check with someone in California? I didn’t check with anyone in California. I don’t know what they’re calling a bull trout down there.”
Caught in a web of bull-trout lies, Maw’s next response was to double down and lie some more. He launched an attack on the Anchorage Dispatch News (ADN), which published the bull trout story, with the assistance of the newspaper’s former and disgruntled executive editor, Pat Dougherty.
“As a long-time editor and someone who cares about good journalism, I’m regularly appalled by the bad, unethical and intentionally hurtful journalism that (Craig) Medred is allowed to publish,” he wrote. “Rather than being ashamed of it, the editor and publisher of the Dispatch seem to revel in it, as if they can’t distinguish between thoughtful reporting or commentary designed to challenge the powerful on behalf of the public, and shallow, condescending, name-calling attacks on people who can’t fight back….Using a series of cheap journalistic tricks, Medred constructed an accusation of perjury against Maw. The charge was reckless and unfair.”
Dougherty then composed a letter for Maw that called the now author of this website various names and included the bizarre claim that the only way Maw could have said the things he was quoted as saying is if the reporter failed to identify himself before conducting the interview
Dougherty, channeling Maw, wrote that “Medred said he called me during the preparation of his column. That surprised me because while I did receive a call from someone, the caller ID was blocked and the caller never identified himself as Craig Medred. Had he so identified himself, I never would have talked to him. I know better.”
Maw can thank Dougherty for all that followed. Dougherty’s attack led to more digging to find out just how big a liar Maw might be. That digging led to the discovery that Maw, while claiming to be a resident of Alaska, was also claiming to be a resident of Montana in order to obtain residency benefits in both states.
Friends like that
By the time this discovery was made, Maw was among the powerful who Dougherty thought it the duty of journalists to “challenge…on behalf of the public.”
Walker had just appointed Maw to the Fish Board, the state entity that oversees the regulation of the state fisheries worth hundreds of millions of dollars. When an Alaska State Trooper was asked to investigate Maw’s apparent claims to residency in Montana, word got back to Walker that his appointee had a potentially big public relations problem in that he was claiming to be an Alaskan while also claiming to be a Montanan.
The next morning, Maw, who was then attending confirmation hearings before the Alaska Legislature, withdrew his name for consideration, and the ADN, then owned by Walker buddy Alice Rogoff, tried to cover up the reason why.
“Kenai River fish wars have claimed another Fish Board nominee,” the newspaper erroneously reported in a story that has never been corrected even though then ADN reporter Nat Hertz shortly after the original story hit the press did what journalists are supposed to do and reported what was really going on.
Maw was under investigation in Montana for his fraudulent claims to citizenship. It is illegal to claim residency benefits in two states at the same time because it is impossible to live in two states at the same time.
Maw fairly quickly accepted his guilt in Montana, where he was fined Maw $7,245 and lost his hunting and fishing privileges for 18 months. His problems were just starting in Alaska, however, where fraudulent claims of residency in order to obtain resident hunting fish and licenses were just the tip of the iceberg.
In Alaska, Maw had also made fraudulent claims in order to collect PFDs – checks for a portion of earnings from the state wealth fund shared with Alaskans every year as their portion of the income on investments from the oil-fueled Permanent Fund. The payments were born of a state constitutional stipulation that public resources, like the oil beneath state lands, are owned collectively by all Alaska citizens and are to be used “for the maximum benefit of its people.”
The state subsequently charged Maw with 12 felonies related to theft from the Fund. Maw’s response was to lie some more with a defense against the charges that argued someone other than him must have been electronically filing for those PFDs in his name.
“Mr. Maw does not necessarily assert that he is not the person who made the statements or engaged in the conduct that is represented in every single exhibit,” his Juneau attorney Nicholas Polasky wrote in a 19-page brief filed in 2016. “However, Mr Maw does not agree that he is the person who made the statements or engaged in the conduct in some of the exhibits.”
What followed was one of the longest court cases in Alaska criminal history followed. Polasky twice managed to get a sympathetic judge to toss the indictments against Maw, but in winning these battles he was only prolonging the war.
The state of Alaska, which does much of its business online now, couldn’t let anyone get away with the legal defense that sworn online filings are meaningless because the data could have been entered by anyone.
Dragging out the case for years did, however, allow the now 79-year-old Maw to remain active in Alaska fishery politics where he told others he’d been wrongly accused, and to get back into the commercial fishing business from which he claimed to have retired before being named to the Fish Board.
Whether his latest admission of lying will see him step out of that area or do anything to change his behavior remains to be seen, given that the truth seems to matter far less in today’s post-truth society than it did a decade ago.
Indications are that it won’t.
Maw’s attorney told Kenai Peninsula radio station KDLL that his client got a good deal from the state, which might be a bit of an understatement.
Maw himself told the station near his Alaska home in Kasilof that it was “nice to have this behind me and have this over so I can move on with my life and the state can move on with whatever it chooses to do.”
Maw added that he is no longer a paid employee of the UCIDA, the region’s most powerful commercial fishing lobby which he once served as executive director. But he still works as a volunteer there and plans to continue doing so.
Maw has played a pivotal role in UCIDA’s long-running efforts to maintain control over salmon harvests in the Inlet as tourism and population growth have increased demands to allow more salmon to escape commercial nets to enter streams and rivers on the Kenai and in the watersheds of the Susitna River valley to provide salmon for sport fishing and help meet the food security needs of average Alaskans.
In that role, Maw authored a variety of pseudo-scientific papers and regularly appeared before the Fish Board to argue that too many sockeye salmon are being allowed to escape commercial nets and enter the Kenai River.
He trooped before the Fish Board in 2020 to accuse state fisheries managers of so badly managing sockeye returns to the Kenai that returns are shrinking to the point “that no one will be allowed to harvest Kenai River salmon in a couple of years; no dipnetting, no sportfishing and no commercial fishing.”
Returns of sockeye to the Kenai have been below the peak numbers of the 1980s and ’90s for a couple of decades, but scientists studying the salmon say this is true of runs all around the Gulf of Alaska. They are suspicious sockeye abundance has been pushed down by competition for food with pink salmon which have reached levels of abundance never before seen.
Despite this, there is no indication of a crash that would require closing the Kenai to all dipnetting, sportfishing and commercial harvests. State fishery managers are expecting a return of just shy of 3 million late-run sockeye to the Kenai River this summer, which just happens to be a “couple of years” on from when Maw predicted drastic fishing closures.
The personal-use dipnet fishery now harvests between 250,000 and 350,000 sockeye per year to feed Alaskan families. State management plans call for getting another 1.1 million to 1`.4 million past commercial nets and into the river to meet spawning and angling needs.
Those goals account for about 1.35 to 1.75 million sockeye, well shy of the 2.9 million expected to return this year. Returns would have to drop significantly under 2 million sockeye before managers were forced to consider dipnet and sport fish closures.
The lowest total returns to the river in the last 40 years have been in the range of 2 million fish, according to Fish and Game data. Annual returns haven’t dropped significantly below that since the 1970s when Alaska salmon runs were depressed due to cold water in the North Pacific Ocean and overfishing in the commercial fisheries.
Editor’s note: This is a revised version of the original story. It was updated to include more specifics of why Maw’s dragged out so long in the Alaska court system.