HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s government ethics agency said Tuesday a retired state Game Commission official who had once been considered for the agency’s top job agreed to pay a $75,000 ethics fine over his side business helping land owners negotiate natural gas drilling leases.
The State Ethics Commission said the penalty was imposed as part of a consent agreement with William Capouillez, who in 2014 was among several people being looked at to become the hunting agency’s executive director.
His job as director of the Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management involved oversight of gas leases for state game lands, while he moonlighted by running a business that helped landowners make deals with some of the same drilling companies.
The ethics commission said he improperly received a valuable benefit by virtue of his state job, but noted he had informed his higher ups of his outside work.
Capouillez’s lawyer, Bob Davis, said the commission originally sought millions of dollars in fines and restitution.
“It is a vanishing percentage of what they said they were after,” Davis said. “There are times when it’s just smarter to just bite the bullet and get it over with.”
Capouillez spent three years at the Department of Environmental Protection before going to work for the Game Commission in 1993. His salary was $84,000 when he retired in May 2015.
The ethics commission said the statute of limitations was a “critical factor” in the case, restricting what of his conduct it could review and how much of a penalty it could order.
“We note that there are times, such as in this case, where the legally correct result is not particularly satisfying,” the commission wrote. It gave Capouillez a month to pay the $75,000.
The commission said that in a December 2014 interview with ethics agency investigators, Capouillez said he “understood the concerns raised and could see the appearance of a problem with his dual positions.”
Capouillez’s private business drew the attention of then-Gov. Tom Corbett in 2014, when the Republican governor warned the Game Commission against making him the next executive director.
One of Corbett’s lawyers wrote a commission lawyer to say “in the strongest possible terms” that Capouillez should not be promoted, calling his mixture of public and private roles “a profoundly troubling appearance of impermissible commingling of public responsibility and private pecuniary interest.”
The Game Commission subsequently agreed not to make Capouillez the agency’s director and adopted new restrictions on outside work by its employees.
Capouillez said he felt the criticism was unfair, noting his private business work had been disclosed, was reviewed for compliance with rules and had been given a series of approvals.