It was late Friday when Arizona Game and Fish sent out a press release that confirmed key details of the Macho B story and added quite a twist: That employee Thorry Smith and contractor Emil McCain had conspired to cover up aspects of the jaguar capture.
The key detail that was confirmed was Janay Brun's contention, which we revealed in April last year (see sidebar) that she had put female jaguar scat at the site where Macho B was later captured. Brun said that Emil McCain, her supervisor, had asked her to put the scat -- taken from fertile females in zoos -- at a variety of spots during a day long hike through a wilderness area.
At the time, McCain denied it and made an allegation we didn't put in the paper -- that he had previously fired Brun for consorting with drug traffickers. McCain had no evidence of that, and Brun denied it, so we didn't publish it.
Now I see his allegation in a different light, because at the same time, McCain apparently agreed with Thorry Smith to go clean up the sites where Brun had put jaguar scat in order to make them conform to an agreed-upon story of what happened.
The new information casts a whole new light on the federal criminal investigation of Macho B's handling. The Interior Department Office of Inspector General's report suggested that someone -- McCain, it appeared -- could be prosecuted criminally. That seems to me more likely now that we see what Smith had to say.
The actions Smith describes certainly seem like they could interest federal prosecutors (not sure if they amount to a crime, though I suppose there could be an evidence-tampering charge), but he has an out, as my colleague Tony Davis reported. Because his employer required Smith to tell all, that material can't be used in a criminal investigation.
So.... is Smith vulnerable to a criminal charge or not? I can certainly imagine a scenario in which prosecutors ask Smith to cooperate in prosecuting McCain, and what they give Smith in return I'm not sure. Maybe they allow him to plead to a misdemeanor. Or maybe they grant him immunity altogether.
And that still leaves open the question of whether Smith and McCain were directed or encouraged by anyone higher up in their organizations or in the jaguar research world in general.