Et tu, Tony? Sexual Misconduct Allegations Against Chief Tooke

Tony Tooke being sworn in as Chief (USDA photo)

Here’s an article about the new Chief Tony Tooke,from the Daily Caller.

But questions are being raised if Tooke is the person to change the culture. Approximately 12 years ago, Tooke, who was married at the time and Deputy Forest Supervisor for the National Forests in Florida, carried on an affair for approximately two years with an entry-level employee, according to a retired Forest Service employee.

The retired USFS employee, who rose to region chief and worked in the same region as Tooke, asked not to be identified because the person still has family working at the USFS and worry they’ll be retaliated against.

A second former USFS employee told The Daily Caller that Tooke’s mistress told them directly about the affair at the time.

After Tooke was named USFS chief last summer, the former region chief sent a letter to Congress detailing her claims.

“Initiated prior to 2005, the sexual misconduct involved a two-year affair between Mr. Tooke, then Deputy Forest Supervisor in Florida and a student from the SCEP program, who was newly converted to a permanent position in Florida, where Mr. Tooke was assigned,” the retired employee wrote Aug. 31, 2017.

“Mr. Tooke occupied a position of power, as the Deputy and second in charge for the National Forests in Florida.”

“The young female employee was an employed on the National Forests in Florida. The employee’s direct supervisor was the Public Communications Staff Officer, who in turn was supervised by the Forest Supervisor and Deputy Forest Supervisor, Mr. Tooke, per the Chain of Command.”

“In my brief read of the ‘Justia’ website article for Defending Charges of Sexual Misconduct I found, ‘It is important to recognize that consent maybe a defense,’” the letter stated. “However, if sexual misconduct arises from a position of power, consent may not be a legal defense, the abuse of power is a crime, even if the subordinate appeared to consent.”

Tooke is also alleged to have pulled strings to get a plum promotion for his paramour.

I’m liking the idea that consensual relationships between higher-ups and people who work directly or indirectly for them should not occur- too much potential for workplace drama. On the other hand, the peer pool can be mighty empty depending on where you work and how far it is to the next office. And of course extramarital affairs are different from dating. Like the rest of this complex issue in other workplaces, I don’t think anyone has the nuances figured out.


  1. First, using a position of power to help you develop a relationship is more than workplace drama; it’s a blatant misuse of power and is unfair to the person in the weaker position. I hope the USDA will investigate the claims that have been raised by what would seem to be credible people (former FS employees who know Tooke). The Chief needs to openly address these claims in order to have any credibility with the FS workforce.

    Many of us can relate to the challenge of living in small towns with limited opportunities for a social life outside of the ranger station staff (it’s why I joined a square dancing club). But the NFs in Florida are not as remote as say Burns, OR or some tiny community in Montana. So to think that Tooke had fewer opportunities to find a mistress in Florida is likely inaccurate. And even if his options were limited there’s no way, in my mind, that it’s reasonable for a Deputy Forest Sup (likely a GS-12 or higher) to be hitting on a young woman, just out of college, in a GS-5 or 7 job. The power dynamic is tilted completely toward the higher grade, supervisory person. To do so would be a sign of really poor judgement and questionable ethics.

  2. Old Woodsman- Sorry I wasn’t clear..I am not excusing Tony’s specific behavior. He should know that you don’t do that within the chain of command. That’s what FS workers are taught, although in my experience, I’ve seen it quite a bit, and never seen anyone get in trouble for it (well, except by supposedly not becoming Chief, but that story seemed to be more about the flagrancy of the delicto).

    My statements had to do with the idea of a general ban on relationships between lower and higher ranking people because they all involve “misuse of power” somehow. I guess I’ve seen people navigate these to their apparent mutual long-term satisfaction. Maybe you also remember when FS workers had “secretaries” and many relationships (when the FS was almost entirely otherwise male) resulted.

    Manipulating or using power to make someone do what they would otherwise not do, and/or not taking “no” gracefully for an answer, are the problems, in my view, not the simple imbalance of power itself.

  3. Assuming, as claimed by an anonymous source reported in The Daily Caller (known for having made fake prostitution allegations against U.S. Senator Menendez) , that Tooke engaged in a two-year, extra-marital affair with an adult woman who worked in the same office, the woman has not alleged any harassment or pressure to have sex with him. It would be presumptuous of the peanut gallery to assume that harassment occurred; they might have been in love.

    As for the SCEP conversion to permanent status, there is no evidence the conversion was made improperly or violated OPM regulations. SCEP exists to recruit and promote students to permanent Forest Service positions. Nor is there any evidence that the female employee did not merit a conversion to permanent status. Is a SCEP employee disqualified from conversion to permanent if s/he sleeps with a work colleague? There is no such rule.

    Nor does any rule bar a Forest Service manager from having sex with a work colleague and, subsequently, recommending that person receive a promotion based upon workplace merit. Anti-nepotism rules apply only to family members, not Tinder hook-ups.

    With over one-third of workers having sex with a workplace colleague (23% who have slept with a superior and 17% who were married), it’s safe to say that the modern workplace is not governed by Victorian-era morality.

    • Andy- I absolutely agree with you. As a formerly young woman, if folks told me that I wasn’t capable of making my own decisions because some attractive guy was somewhere above me in the power structure, I would have been steamed.

    • Bruh…Really? He was her superior and the coercion is kinda implied by that. Let’s stop making apologies for these assholes, okay?

      Did you ever here about the Patrol Captain in R3, married, who was f*%king around with a SCEP student? That girl ended up committing suicide.

    • Because what two consenting adults choose to do in the bedroom is their own private affair. Not mine. Not yours. Not this blog’s. Not the Forest Service’s.

      The anonymous accuser, who is NOT the woman, has his own ax to grind. He wants the Chief’s job. And is willing to hurt people to get it.

  4. This does raise the interesting question of why this is a story. Is it likely this is just one “anonymous accuser” who wants the Chief’s job? Doesn’t it suggest something more like a movement to remove the Chief, connected to the Daily Caller, which is these days politically connected? But if “the former region chief sent a letter to Congress detailing her claims,” that suggests there is more of a different kind of personnel story (unless it’s the same story because she thinks that would get her his job, which is a getting a little weird). So where is that letter?

    • I think the idea of this retired RF conspiring to get Tony’s job is a bit of an overreach but possible. She sent the letter back in August right after Tony was appointed Chief (way before he had time to enforce policy). Why is the article just coming out now?

      My understanding is that the mistress was not a SCEP student but an entry-level clerk. If that is the case, it would have been a “promotion” not a “conversion. So, Andy and Sharon, I have a scenario I would like to hear your input on. Let’s say that Sharon is exercising her right to sleep with a boss (whether fist-line or way up the chain of command), and you (Andy) are her peer and apply for the same promotion? You don’t get it, but she does. How does that make you feel? I know this happens all the time. It kind of sounds like legal prostitution to me and with taxpayer money?

      • Dale — Sharon is highly skilled at her job, which is what counts. It would be an insult to her competence to suggest that she slept her way to a new position. She got the job, and I didn’t. So what? There are other jobs. Just because I’m a 6-foot, white guy, doesn’t mean I’m entitled to the promotion. I’ll wish her well in her new position. And because she’s a workplace friend, too, I’ll silently give her a “you go, girlfriend,” for her passionate, joyful romance.

        Bottomline, Dale, is that sex happens in the workplace, out of the workplace, in bars and bedrooms, in marriages and out of marriages. Insecure men seek solace in the notion that successful women got to where they are by using beguiling and irresistible sexual wiles to gain an unfair advantage. To which I can only say, “grow a pair, guys.”

        • Of course you can sleep with Andy. He is your peer. I wouldn’t recommend it though.

          As for clarification on “what happens all the time”, mostly men (some women) abuse their power to get their rocks off. With taxpayer money in the Forest Service, it seems we should be held to a hire standard in our hiring practices than the corporate world. Maybe I have not been around as you, Sharon, but I have only seen this within the FS with a small number of individuals.

          • That was my point, I would say that this probably happens less in the FS than elsewhere. Sleeping with someone to get ahead assumes that the higher level person has some power to make hiring decisions.. that person could be transferred tomorrow and everyone left would be biased against you. Then there’s the question of how much influence the higher level person actually has.. many times they are told whom to hire based on a variety of other (some intentional) (some buddy system) and other, possibly, random factors.
            Not a good rational use of time. Now if you’re mostly doing it for fun, but there could be work benefits…that might be something different.

            • Good point. What I find most unsettling is Tony’s threat to his mistress about her career going down if she talks about their relationship. No wonder the poor woman won’t file a complaint or talk with reporters. How many other girls has he said this too? Is that why he has a “clean file”?

              • Yes, I agree that that is the problem. First question: do we know it happened (Tony said that to her) ? Was it documented in the files? if these files have been given to Congress, can we see them? Can we see the text of the interviews with the people involved?

                Second- has Tony admitted his fault and repented and stopped doing it? What exactly has his history been since then? If people don’t feel like they can talk due to reprisal is there an anonymous way they can give feedback? Except maybe this would open up things up to people who Don’t Like Tony and decide to use this against him.. So how can we know this one way or the other (unless people speak up)???

                If a) he hasn’t been doing it…b) and the account of the threats were accurate.
                There are three paths we can go down here: (1) He did a wrong thing so he can’t be trusted to lead regardless. One strike you’re out (2) He learned from it and has “sinned no more” therefore forgiveness is possible. Possibly with some kind of corporate confession and penance, (3) the idea that he can’t be trusted to run anti-harassment efforts. Let’s face it- for the last 40 years everyone R or D, clean record or not has failed, and failed miserably. Maybe he should be the one to invoke a zero-tolerance policy as part of his corporate penance. And place a Fire person in charge because after all… where have there been most problems? Or perhaps the Park Service and the Forest Service could work together (and Tony’s job could be to say “yes” to what they come up with).

                He might be inclined to work even harder to deal with sexual harassment in atonement for his sins. I just can’t draw the direct line, personally between doing one bad thing and never being trusted again. That’s why information about his behavior from then to now is so important.

                • Very well put, Sharon. You laid that out very logically and fairly. That indeed is the conundrum. Where is the line? Is there a line? I have certainly made mistakes and like to believe change is possible. Leaders are people too.

                  The key question is has he continued this conduct over the past 12 years or is he a changed man?

                  The Park Service did do a Climate Survey on sexual harassment. I am not sure of all that it entailed but that could be something to build on….only, how do you rule out negative responses of employees that might have an axe to grind? Thus, I don’t think anonymous survey would be appropriate.

                  Perhaps a thorough investigation of his relationships with female subordinates over the last twelve years would either allow more things to crawl out now that the rock has been lifted or it could confirmed he has learned from his mistakes, is a changed man, and help restore tryst in him. What do you think?

              • He has a clean file because it was probably sanitized.

                Does anyone know about a former FS Special Agent who threatened the life of the CI he was messing around with when she was going to tell his wife about the affair? That guy is now in the WO.

  5. That is a possibility, Andy. We are, in fact, human. Which brings another question to mind. Say, Sharon and her superior break up or have a lover’s quarrel? Do you honestly believe that her ex-lover would be able to separate his personal feelings from her employment benefits? Better, if you were Sharon, would you not be terrified that this would happen (whether perceived or real)?

    Just for fun, one more scenario -Superior makes a sexual advance towards an employee. He/she does not consent. Then what happens to the power dynamic? Is that woman/man/victim supposed to not have any fear that her refusal to partake is not going to effect her employment benefits (this can include benefits as small as training, detail opportunities, etc.)

    If you say it wouldn’t matter, I remind you that we are, in fact, human. Yes, we do make mistakes and let our emotions get the best of us, especially when romantic feelings are involved. This is why the imbalance of power whether the superior is male or female is not only unethical but illegal. It is called “quid pro quo” -consent is not a defense by the way in supervisor/subordinate affairs. I know this young lady did not file a complaint, but why would she? She got a sweet promotion out of it, and she didn’t even have to relocate.

      • Per your definition, that would be rape. Do you mean “unwelcome sexual advance”? That is a very grey area, my friend and usually where is comes down to “he said, she said” -If there is one “he” and multiple “she’s” -there in lies the truth. I would let the results of an investigation speak for itself.

        • There was an investigation ten years ago. It found Tooke broke no rules; thus no formal action was taken. Today’s investigation should ask how internal personnel information was disclosed to a U.S. Senator by a retired regional forester. That could violate the Privacy Act.

  6. The Department needs to conduct an investigation on Tony’s previous involvement with female subordinates and the outcome of those relationships. From my experience, they won’t need to dig very deep to find similar cases. And now, EVERYONE, in the FS works for Tony. I don’t see his behavior changing. The big problem is it undermines the Agency. He may be a great leader and great person in other regards. Forest Service values and credibility are way BIGGER than any individual person…even the Chief.

  7. Let’s not assume away the question. What if she isn’t highly skilled at her job? Do you think Tony singled her out for attention because of her job skills?
    “We cannot turn a blind eye to the raunchy behavior that goes on behind the boardroom door. In fact, if it is exposed, we can help shape a fairer environment for female and male employees to succeed without having to degrade themselves to get ahead.” And maybe we’ll have fewer “me toos,” too.

    • Jon — Based upon the Daily Caller article, the retired regional forester (still secret) letter to Senator Isakson does not claim or provide any evidence that the woman’s promotion was improper or unmerited. Are you claiming it was? Why? Nor is there any evidence that Tooke singled out the woman for promotion, i.e., never encouraged the promotion of any other employee. One doesn’t get to be Chief without helping people in the workforce advance. As for the “raunchy behavior” article, good grief, the author is a Scottish Puritan who writes click bait for a living. This is what passes for authoritative analysis?

      • Andy, I never thought much of you or your stances on things but I always thought you were a pretty sharp guy. I was wrong. You are clueless. I hope your board of directors is reading your posts; it should terrify them that someone in a position of power in their organization is so incredibly naïve about basic organizational norms. A GS-14 Deputy Forest Sup hitting on and sleeping with a subordinate is wrong. Period. There are no excuses or legal babbling that can ever justify it. Period. That type of behavior will tear an organization to bits. Especially in the government. And for this guy to be promoted to Chief sends an incredibly horrible message to the rank and file. Nothing that comes out of his mouth has any credibility from now on. Andy, you need to get a clue and think about this. If the story wasn’t true it would have been denied. Its well known in the agency it was true. And the agency promoted him four times. That is a death spiral for an organization.

        • Robby — The Forest Service, like all federal civilian agencies, has no dating policy (by contrast, the military bans officers from having sexual relations with enlisted members). You appear to want the Forest Service to enforce an unwritten anti-fraternization morality policy. That, too, would violate “organizational norms.”

          The reason I focus on rules is because rules matter. Federal rules bar sexual harassment (none has been alleged in Tooke’s case) and nepotism (none has been alleged in Tooke’s case). There are no other rules that regulate sexual relations in the federal civilian workplace. Should there be? I’m agnostic on the subject. In the old days, workplace sex was regulated by keeping women in the kitchen. Nor could sex be used to further a woman’s career because she couldn’t advance beyond secretary. We’ve come a long ways, with a long ways still to go. I doubt that regulating sexual affairs will serve to advance the cause further.

          There is no allegation that Tooke “hit on” the employee (she might have hit on him!). Yes, they slept together, but your assumption that he initiated the affair is a bit old-fashioned and paternalistic. Until alleged otherwise, there’s no reason to assume the affair was not consensual.

          • You remain incredibly clueless We are not talking about your 6 person, one room non-profit office Andy! This is a $5 Billion organization with 30,000 employees! Some free career advice: First, delete these posts asap so your employees or a future employer never sees your “leadership philosophy”; Second, stay put where you are. You are unemployable with those beliefs about how to create a functional workplace.

        • Whoa? If there is a “death spiral” (debatable) and it is caused by promotions of guys who have had relationships with people they supervise, the FS should have hit the ground oh… about 30 years ago.
          I remember one guy who had done something seriously wrong that I believe involved computers and porn. Another guy did something wrong and they wanted to move him to the WO, and be maybe somewhere above us in the hierarchy of NFS. DeAnn Zwight and I went to see Gail Kimbell (I think she was Deputy for NFS at the time) and told her that making him our boss was sending a very bad message to the folks in the WO (the region you are removing him from counts, and we don’t) , and if he got that job, we would wear rubber raincoats to all our meetings with him. I don’t know if Gail believed us about the raincoats, but he never showed up in DC.

          My point being that a variety of sexual misbehaviors have been going on for some time without the organization crashing and burning. And if the former President were able to lead adequately given his misbehavior, *then we are applying seriously different standards for career civil servants in terms of conduct. Which in itself is OK, but then let’s be open about it.

          * I’m not even going to get started talking about the present President.

          • Not the same… of course this stuff has been going on without a death spiral. As it has in Hollywood, Congress, and TWH! But no more. Internet makes it impossible now.. people (women) have had enough. My point is you simply cannot lead an organization with Andy’s philosophy. It will be chaos.

  8. If you don’t think that most rational people would be questioning the promotion of one employee over themselves when the other has been romantically involved with a superior beggars the imagination. I am sure that you would sit there and say to your self “Well gee Sue or Bill or whoever must be more qualified than me”. You are deluding yourself.

  9. Ok, assume it was consensual and there are no rules against that. There is a lot of behavior that is not against the rules that is bad for an organization and that should not be ignored or rewarded if it wants to be successful. I think the Scottish Puritan has a point. I also learned (maybe from FS training) that it is not just actual conflicts of interest, but the appearance of conflicts of interest that are problematic and require full disclosure. But maybe you’re right and most (current and prospective) employees will see an organization that appears to endorse these arrangements as their kind of place.

    • Jon — the “conflicts of interest” rules apply only to financial conflicts of interest between family and/or business associates, i.e., taking official actions that benefit financially one’s husband or child. The rules do not regulate a government employee’s actions that financially benefit unmarried sexual partners — whether past, present or future.

      The Forest Service has bigger problems in the workplace than its CEO’s 10-year-old consensual love affair. Problems like bona fide sexual harassment, and discrimination against women and people of color.

      An organization that tries to regulate inter-employee sex in the hook-up age (i.e., since time immemorial) will be no bed of roses to work for either.

      • Andy, put down the shovel. Every time you posted you make yourself look dumber. This is not about moral police in the Forest Service, its about how to properly have a set of values that the organization abides by. You have no idea what it is like to manag, lead and supervise a large group of people. You must have a set of standards…without which you fail.

      • You’re being narrowly legalistic again about “rules” (I do that too at times, it has its place). This is a question of personal and organizational ethics. This kind of behavior (potentially on the part of both parties) is unethical and makes the Forest Service look bad to most people. I don’t think that’s the kind of leadership it wants.

  10. Bottom Line: Sounds like the official letter from Forest Supervisor Kearney (then Tony’s boss) stated that “he told her not to say anything about her sexual relationship or her career would go down” If this is true, which I believe it easily could be, Tony absolutely has to resign.

    • The letter the article is referring is most likely the investigator’s report. Thus, I think most reasonable people would agree that Tony has to go. How many other “careers are going to go down” under his leadership before we say enough is enough?

  11. No wonder the poor woman won’t file a complaint or talk with reporters. How many other girls has he said this too? Is that why he has a “clean file”? Once he became Chief, how many women do you think were scared they could loose their job? Further, how many new young women’s careers and dreams will be destroyed as a result of his poor decision-making and lack of self-control?

    The predator is a small part of the problem. The real tragedy is he has been rewarded for abuse of power by being given more power to abuse. The message now is that the Agency/Department culture has rewarded his poor conduct and behavior and accepted it as the status quo. It is a very sad time for the Forest Service. Like I said, no matter how great of a leader he is in other areas, the values and credibility of the Forest Service far exceed any individual…even the Chief.

    • Your comment is spot on. As long as the woman was in the direct chain of command below Tooke, the affair was more than ill-advised. It was unethical.

      The woman’s career could have been at risk if she spoke up. On the flip side, the woman’s career could have benefited if Tooke tried to use his positional authority to get her promotions for which she did not qualify. Either harming the woman’s career or showing her favoritism because they had an affair is an abuse of position. Why that fact seems to escape people is beyond me.

      Forbidding relationships in the workplace between two people within each other’s chain of command is wise. During the training I received prior to becoming an instructor at a university some time ago, other trainees and I were cautioned not to engage in relationships with our students. Students could date students; instructors could date instructors. Instructors dating students would have opened the doors to abuse of power and to charges of favoritism.

  12. There’s been a culture of this sort of thing being OK/people looking the other way for a long long time. In the George W. Bush Administration, the USDA’s Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment was known on one particular Forest to prefer that the Forest Supe’s Executive assistant would be the one who picked him up from the airport when he visited the area. The (female) Forest Supervisor knew that he was fond of the woman. Eventually He’d show up…at some point…either for an FLT meeting, or whatever function justified his presence in that location, but that doesn’t do a good job of demonstrating acceptable behavior for his tens of thousands of employees (albeit only a fraction of them knowing about this antic) in one of his two agencies. Great example of leadership….

    • And it only takes a few examples of that sort of behavior to erode the morale of an entire national forest or ranger district.

      The truth is that the Forest Service is hurting for funds, so when someone in a position of authority takes unnecessary junkets during, say, ski season to a national forest that is located near resorts, but the average district-level employee is told that s/he can’t attend career development training because there is not enough money in the budget, morale plummets.

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