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DNC headquarters in Yosemite Village

Delaware North Companies headquarters in Yosemite Village.

On the Trail of Yosemite's Monopoly Concessionaire

Note: The main article follows below the updates in red.

Updates 10/8/15 - The National Park Service and Aramark signed a new 15-year contract for Yosemite, which takes effect March 1st. Read more... Delaware North Companies has sued NPS for violation of trademark rights, claiming it should be paid millions of dollars for the famous names historically used in the park that it now claims to own. Arguments were heard by a court in September. Read more... 6/17/15 -- National Park Service offers Yosemite contract to Aramark, not DNC. Read more...

Updates...1/27/15 -- Bidding closed on the contract January 21, 2015. The winning concessioner should be announced within the next few months and will start its operation in March of 2016. In December, the Park Service modified the proposed new contract changing the franchise fee. Originally set at 8.6% of gross revenues, that figure was dropped to 8% . The reduction in franchise fee percentage amounts to the government losing about $12 million over 15 years. Read more... 1/15/15 -- The National Park Service has amended the contract up for bid, increasing the out-of-pocket cost for any concessionaire (other than DNC) if it wants to take over in Yosemite: “The following exhibit summarizes the estimated initial investment to be made by the Concessioner in 2016 dollars, which is projected to be $40,100,000, consisting of the purchase of the Existing Concessioner’s personal property, inventory, supplies, start-up costs (staff hiring, training, etc.) and working capital (investment needed to cover expenses incurred in advance of offsetting revenues). “Other Property (other than Inventory)” includes $3.5 million for the Existing Concessioner’s intangible property; and $4.6 million for leased transportation equipment that the Existing Concessioner has represented it will purchase prior to the expiration of the Existing Contract, all of which was not previously identified.” See Note #4 below for a link.

Update 12/24/14 -- Delaware North claims that it "owns" the names of some Yosemite's most iconic places, and must be compensated for $51 million in "intellectual property rights" if its concessions contract in not renewed. Among the names DNC says it owns: Ahwahnee Hotel, Badger Pass, Curry Village, the Wawona Hotel, and Yosemite Lodge. Read more...

Updates as of 10/1/14 -- According to an article appearing recently in National Parks Traveler, NPS awarded Delaware North Companies a 10-year contract in March 2013 to operate the concessions at neaby Kings Canyon National Park. Read more... Note: The article incorrectly states that DNC was the sole bidder on the Yosemite contract in 1993. Also, an Acadia National Park concessioner who lost out to another company in bidding last fall claims the bid evaluation was a "sham," in a lawsuit filed against NPS. Read more... In December 2013, a federal court ruled that NPS acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" in awarding a concession for ski touring at Grand Teton National Park. However, the court refused to disallow the award, ordering NPS to simply reimburse the bidding expenses of the loser, Eco Tour. Read more... In February 2014, NPS released the final version of its Merced River Plan, which calls for many changes that will affect Yosemite's park concessions. Read more...

Update 11/12/11 -- The National Park Service has announced a 4-year extension of its current contract with DNC, now set to end January 31, 2015.


By Rosemary Regello

It has been more than 15 years of water under the bridge (now 21 years) since the National Park Service awarded  Delaware North Companies its most coveted prize: the contract to sell lodging, food, gas and other services in Yosemite.

At the time DNC acquired the “Crown Jewels” of the park system  as one congressman put it the company had never held a wilderness park concession.  Nor had it ever operated any resort or lodgings in the United States. Its universe revolved around fast-food concessions at ballparks and airports, as well as  pari-mutuel betting on greyhound dog races and other gambling enterprises.   A spokesman for the company, in defending the award, reminded the Los Angeles Times  that DNC had catered the last three presidential inaugural balls.(1) It was a revealing statement.  By all accounts, politics figured more prominently into the equation than park service administrators were letting on.

But DNC's near century-long entrenchment in the greyhound industry should have placed it at loggerheads with the NPS mission to protect and preserve wildlife from the outset.  According to animal rights advocates, thousands of jack rabbits and other critters from the wild are sacrificed annually as training inducements for the racers, who themselves live unhappy lives locked in cages. Before rescue groups were organized in the 1990's, most were destroyed or sent to testing laboratories when their track careers ended at age three.

DNC greyhound racing logo --- greyhound locked in cage 
On left, DNC's online greyhound racing logo. On right, the reality of the sport - an incarcerated canine. Photo credit:

Yet dogs were the last thing on anyone's mind when the brouhaha over the Yosemite contract erupted in December 1992. A month before the first Bush Administration left office, Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan joined an NPS evaluation committee in declaring DNC the only bidder to meet the criteria set forth in the  park prospectus. Environmentalists found the decision hinky, coming just 17 days after the committee sat down to review some 50,000 pages of documentation submitted by six finalists. The process should normally have required several months, suggesting that either the evaluators were speed readers on steroids, or the fix was in.  

In addition, DNC was not the top money bidder.  That distinction went to long-time parks contractor TW Recreational Service Inc. (now Xanterra).  Also in the running was a consortium of private and nonprofit concerns formed specifically to administer this 15-year, $1.5 billion contract.   TheYosemite Restoration Trust Services Corporation combined the talents of such disparate outfits as the Walt Disney Company, the San Francisco Exploratorium, Rockresorts, American Youth Hostels and The Nature Conservancy. The group raised $7 million in capital, and like TWRS, offered to contribute a higher percentage of its profits to the government than DNC.(2)  

Information presented in this commentary has been compiled from newspaper articles and other previously published sources. Footnotes are located at the end of the article.

Consequently, The Wilderness Society filed a lawsuit challenging the decision.  That was thrown out, but  the firestorm of controversy made its way up to Capitol Hill, where the House Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing in March 1993.  "I think we want to look at it very carefully," Rep. Bruce Vento of Minnesota told the Washington Post following the NPS announcement.  “This is one of the crown jewel parks, and it makes a lot of dough." (3)

All the eleventh-hour maneuvering, however, would be for naught.  Like the Chaco Canyon sun dagger aligning with its spiral on the Autumn equinox, DNC nailed up its shingles right on schedule, September 30,1993. Thereafter, the Buffalo-based conglomerate settled in for its long winter’s nap.

Alas, the concessions contract is set to expire again on September 30, 2011. Bidding on the next 15-year cycle is due to start soon, although even so routine a task as issuing a prospectus is not without drama here. In January, NPS announced it was postponing  the April release date, adding only that the process would occur later in 2010. (4) 

There's certainly cause for anticipation.  As it currently stands, the concession amounts to a breathtaking monopoly.  At Yellowstone and Grand Canyon,  NPS farms out its service contracts to multiple firms. Not Yosemite.  The receipts of all park hotels, lodges, restaurants, cabins, retail shops, grocery stores, gas stations, in-park bus tours, ski resort operation, rafting center, stables, bicycle stands, auto repair garage, dog kennels, golf course and now even a mountaineering school inevitably get deposited into one bank account.  And since DNC is a company privately held by one family, it's under no obligation to publicly disclose its earnings.

Plans for new casino at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York DNC

Delaware North's latest "racino" is under construction at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens N.Y. The complex will include a 184,000-square-foot gambling floor, 4,500 video gambling terminals, and "at least 300 hotel rooms", according to a company press release.  State  officials say they awarded DNC the contract  because the firm offered the most money up front.

Beyond transforming Yosemite into a company town over the past decade and a half, billionaire Jeremy Jacobs, Jerry Jr., et. al. have acquired the historic Tenaya Lodge and other hotels perched along routes leading to the land of enchantment.  In 1998, DNC also snagged the concession for nearby Sequoia National Park.

If all that weren't enough to make competitors and local area business owners ponder, “What have those park rangers been smoking?” there are also links to organized crime to consider. A news search of DNC’s previous moniker, Emprise Corporation, brings up plenty of interesting reading, but few people are aware of the connection. Jacobs changed the name in 1980, no doubt hoping to cover  tracks he and his father tramped down in decades past.  Both Louis Jacobs and Jeremy's brother Max were named as unindicted co-conspirators in a1972 racketeering case, yet the extent of criminal associations stretches far beyond a single transgression or time frame. And DNC's reigning monarch apparently rode shotgun through it all.

Naturally, the specter of DNC consorting with mafia dons and crime syndicates is a touchy subject for the family.  It was not even broached when the congressional committee met in 1993.  It should have been, for at the time of the hearing, a sensational murder was being prosecuted in an Arizona courtroom, one with Emprise’s paw prints all over it. And a central figure in that case would ultimately decide the winner of the Yosemite contract.

A Rose by Any Other Name

Delaware North Companies is but the latest in a parade of corporate aliases dating back a century.  Initially billed as Jacob Brothers  for the three siblings who hawked popcorn and peanuts at baseball games  the enterprise was later christened Sportservice, then later, Sportsystems. In Yosemite, employees and visitors knew the company by the name Yosemite Concessions Service. Two years ago, this benign storefront was scrapped in favor of another DNC Parks and Resorts. 

The most notorious of the firm’s emanations, Emprise was set up as a holding company in 1961. The word is defined as “daring” or “prowess” in undertaking a  venture.  In 1972, Sports Illustrated offered its own more practical take on the name: “Enterprise and empire: Emprise.”

While Jacobs Brothers may have began unremarkably, its mark on the world of sports would be profound. Over time, family patriarch Louis Jacobs learned how to leverage concessions contracts on the back of interest-free loans to sports franchises in need.  There was a lot of need back then, too.

Godfather of Sports - Sports Illustrated"The empire itself is a phenomenon, extending almost unnoticed beneath the structure of American sport, like a vast catacomb. To understand the empire one must appreciate the late emperor. " - Sports Illustrated  


1972 cover featuring Louis Jacobs, co-founder and first CEO of Emprise/Delaware North Companies.

By the early seventies, Emprise was managing the food/beverage services for seven major league baseball teams, eight professional football teams, five professional basketball teams and four hockey teams. Quite a Horatio Alger story on the surface. In the shadows however, there lurked an almost diabolical intrigue.  According to the SI piece:

“In keeping with the old man's modus operandi, Emprise money rolled out as fast as it rolled in, fertilizing the empire's pastures. (Louie once told a potential partner, "Anytime you want more than $3 million, give us 24 hours' notice. Any less than that sum, we'll get you immediately.") While stadium patrons from Seattle to Orlando, Fla. were helping make Sportservice a $100 million-a-year operation by devouring 20 million hot dogs, gulping 30 million soft drinks, guzzling 25 million cups of beer and shelling five million bags of peanuts, the company's private loan office – Louie's crowbar – was shelling out.”  (5)

The ballpark franchises were just the beginning.  There were other reasons why Louie’s portrait ended up on a magazine cover alongside the headline “Godfather of Sports”:

“According to James (Jimmy Doyle) Plumeri, a New York shylock and labor racketeer who was murdered last year, Louie Jacobs furnished financial backing for boxers controlled by Plumeri and the notorious Frankie Carbo during the 1950s. Jacobs' funding of Plumeri enabled him to use Plumeri's labor clout, along with that of another mobster, Johnny Dio, to head off strikes at sports sites. Plumeri once told of how back in Prohibition days Louie Jacobs financed the purchase of rum-running boats that brought booze from Canada to Buffalo.”

Ties to the underworld were surfacing on DNC’s balance sheet like leaks in a raft. Among the most notable, Emprise partnered up with Jerry Catena, leader of the New York mafia, and Raymond Patriarca of the New England Cosa Nostra on a slot machine business called Lion Manufacturing. SI's 9,000-word tomé written by John Underwood and Morton Sharnik spelled out the details:

“According to the SEC, Emprise indeed was the largest single stockholder, controlling the business by virtue of a voting trust agreement resulting from a $1 million bank loan to Lion in 1963... Max Jacobs says that his father had Emprise invest in Lion because of ‘a good coffee machine’ it made, but that Louie sold out when the true nature of Lion's operation was discovered. Catena sold his stock in 1965 at more than a $140,000 profit.

"Tony (Ducks) Corallo, a New York Mafia figure, has another version of the Lion venture. Coffee machines, good or bad, do not enter into it. From the beginning, he says, it was to be Catena's deal. Catena needed $1 million to take over the amusement device corporation. He had the money in cold cash, but he could not use it without risking prosecution for tax evasion. To oblige Catena, Louie Jacobs guaranteed a $1 million loan that set up the purchase of the company. Two years later, as another favor to Catena, Louie sold his interest in Lion."

Mug sho tof Gerardo "Jerry" Catena --- Johnny Dio's arrest

Tony Zerilli ------ mug shots of Raymond Patriarcha

Unlikely Proximity Group -- Louis Jacobs wasn't picky about his business associates. Clockwise from top left:  Gerardo "Jerry" Catena, Johnny Dio, Anthony Zerilli and Raymond Patriarcha.

In another oft-cited example of facilitating the exploits of organized crime, Emprise and the Teamsters helped Cleveland racketeer Morris B. "Moe" Dalitz buy the Stardust casino from Al Capone associate Jake "The Barber" Factor.  Testimony before the House Select Committee on Crime revealed that Emprise had been lending money to the Cleveland mob since 1937. (6)

The sheer volume of these links and dealings eventually made the company hard for the authorities to ignore.  Three months before the SI article appeared, a federal jury in Los Angeles found Louis and his eldest son Max guilty of conspiring to help conceal the identity of two purchasers of a Las Vegas casino. The real owners, Detroit mobsters Anthony J. Zerilli and Michael S. Polizzi, received five-year sentences for their scam.  Emprise was fined $10,000 but neither Jacobs was indicted. Perhaps having a name that didn’t end in a vowel helped cushion the blow for them. (Louis died three years earlier from a heart attack, so the verdict didn't affect him one way or another.)

Still, the felony conviction put a crimp in the revenue stream of an expanding empire.  In fact, the whole kit and kaboodle depended on liquor licenses, operating permits and contracts from state and local government agencies.  All that teetered in the balance now. So the company reorganized – on paper, that is – with Emprise placed as a subidiary under a new corporation known as Sportsystems.  Max Jacobs also stepped down. Another officer and director of the company assumed the helm of the mothership – Max's younger brother Jeremy. He was 28 years old.

In a twist of irony (if not logic), the new Emprise recruited former officials of the Nixon’s Justice Department to help repair its tattered reputation. The deployment of the heavy hitters paid off, too. For instance, Henry E. Peterson, the U.S. assistant attorney general assigned by the President to direct the early Watergate investigation, joined forces with convicted burglar E. Howard Hunt’s lawyer William Bittman (a former DOJ prosecutor)  to block a bill in the Florida State Legislature.  Designed by its author to put Emprise out of business, the measure was defeated in three consecutive sessions, according to the Daytona Beach Morning Journal. (7)

In the end, only four states bothered to hold the company’s feet to the fire. Tiny Vermont and sparsely populated Oregon both canceled Emprise's liquor licenses. The Morning Journal noted that in its ruling, the Oregon Dept. of Justice stated the Jacobs family "should not be permitted to hide behind corporate fictions to avoid civil liabilities of a felony conviction." 

In California, the Horse Racing Board found Emprise guilty of committing "an act involving moral turpitude, is of bad moral character, and has a bad reputation for truth, honesty and integrity." However, a state judge reversed the decision. (8)

Emprise was off to the races again.

Cruella Delaware North and 1001 Greyhounds

Zerilli and Polizzi, incidentally, sat on the board of directors of Hazel Downs, a racetrack in which Emprise had a 12 percent interest. By 1972, the year of its felony conviction, Emprise held concessions contracts and/or an ownership stake in 50 horse and dog tracks in the U.S. and Canada, plus 10 more in England and Puerto Rico, according to Sports Illustrated.  So lucrative had the racetrack business become that for awhile, the toiling quadrapeds were generating half of DNC’s revenues. The company would infuse serious amounts of capital into the industry again in the late 1980’s.(9)

Southland Greyhound Park

Resuscitating a dying industry -- DNC provided a multi-million dollar infusion to Southland Greyhound Park (above) in Arkansas in 2005.  The company makes money off the tracks from both betting and concession services.

The canine fixation persists even today.  In 2005, DNC sank $40 million into a struggling Arkansas track known as Southland, installing a new entertainment center, electronic gaming equipment and a gift shop alongside DNC's food and beverage facilities.(10) And not that NPS cares, but amenable accommodations and working conditions for the dogs weren't part of the package. Since the 1966 Animal Welfare Act excluded the racing industry from its purview, handlers are  permitted to store greyhound dogs in small cages for much of the day (and night), without so much as a chew toy to pass the time.(11)

Moreover, according to the nonprofit group Last Chance for Animals, an estimated 30,000 pups are destroyed each year by breeders as they whittle down their prospects. Those dogs who do make the cut are trained to chase and sometimes kill rabbits and other small animals (an estimated 100,000 of these annually), typically with the live bait hanging by a rope over the race course.(12)

Max's Sports Bar in Glendale, AZMax's Sports Bar in Glendale, AZ -- One of several places in the state where  racing fans can wager on 14 dog tracks nationwide. Parimutuel betting assures a steady flow of profit to DNC no matter which dogs win.  Photo:  DNC 

Thanks to educational campaigns, voter referendums and dwindling revenues for some operators, seven tracks closed in 2009. Still, DNC’s high-tech electronic betting system and race simulcasts allow it to navigate around this problem. A website called American Greyhound Dog Racing directs customers to locations around the country where they can place bets for all the up-and-running tracks in which DNC is affiliated.(13)  One track in Birmingham, Alabama, boasts that it warehouses 1,000 dogs in 18 buildings. (14)

In Arizona, where Emprise once dominated the greyhound circuit, customers watch the hounds at entertainment centers built on the ashes of its defunct tracks. DNC also owns Max’s Sports Bar in Glendale, which is described on the race website:

“For the betting fan, Max's offers a newly designed Simulcast Wagering Center that closely resembles the high rolling style of ‘Vegas’ racebooks. The wagering center features 2 big screen TV's, twelve 27" TV's and 28 private betting carrels equipped with personal color TV monitors. Both thoroughbred and greyhound races are simulcast daily from around the country and available for wagering.” 

By creating an environment comfortably removed from the dogs themselves, DNC has artfully managed to dodge any responsiblity for the many abuse allegations associated with the sport.  

A Stick of Dynamite for Your Thoughts

It turns out, the battle at the OK Corral, which took place in 1881 at Tombstone, Arizona, was but a link in a chain of outlaw violence that shaped the fortunes of the 48th state. Getting a piece of the gambling action there must have seemed like a no-brainer to the Jacobs clan, and by the 1960's Emprise was operating a six-track monopoly with a local partner, Funk Greyhound Racing Circuit. Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles first began documenting the syndicate in1969, uncovering a scheme in which members of the Arizona Racing Commission kept other outfits out of the business in exchange for bribes paid by Emprise.  State Auditor General Ira Osman had already reported on the shenanigans to the state attorney general’s office. Yet no corrective action was taken until after Bolles testified before Claude Pepper’s House Select Committee on Crime in Washington two years later about what his inquiries had turned up.  Accorting to the SI article:

“Osman had discovered that two racing commissioners had business transactions with Emprise-Funk owned corporations during the time they were deciding on their license applications and an employee of the tax commission was found to be working for one of the Emprise-Funk tracks as a 'money-room manager'… Arizona House Majority Leader Burton Barr found that a prominent young lawyer who had served as his special assistant had used his position to influence passage of a revenue bill favorable to Emprise, and had received a ‘legal fee’ from Emprise.”

Don Bolles Reporter Don Bolles.  Photo:  Arizona Republic

Eventually, three commissioners were removed from their posts.  Emprise's Arizona operation also went into temporary state receivership following  its 1972 felony conviction.  Fortunately, State Attorney General Bruce Babbitt came to the rescue, helping to smooth things over with the regulators, according to a 1994 article in the Wall Street Journal. “Over the years, the Jacobs family and its business arms have given thousands of dollars to Mr. Babbitt's campaigns,” John R. Emshwiller explained, adding in parentheses, “Mr. Babbitt has consistently said those contributions never influenced his treatment of the company and noted that he has, at times, been a critic of the company." (15)

Emprise would have an even bigger nightmare on its hands before long.  In 1976, liquor magnate and Arizona's richest citizen Kemper Marley was appointed to the racing commission.   Since his company had supplied Emprise/Funk with beverages for almost thirty years, the conflict of interest was obvious. But Governor Raul Castro, another recipient of Emprise campaign funds, appointed Marley anyway.  So Bolles published a couple news stories on the subject, and eight days after his appointment, Marley was out. (16)

Not long after this debacle, Bolles was contacted by a man claiming to have details on a land fraud scheme involving U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater.  Bolles drove to the Clarendon House in Phoenix on June 2, 1976 to meet with the informant, a part-time tow truck driver and greyhound breeder named John Harvey Adamson.  But Adamson never showed.  Bolles left the hotel and walked back to his car. That's when six sticks of dynamite detonated beneath its chassis.

Before losing consciousness, the reporter told  bystanders, "They finally got me - Emprise - the Mafia - John Adamson - Find him."   What happened next would spawn one of the most hashed-over whodunnits in American conspiracy journalism.

Lucky Babbitt’s Foot

Following the Bolles murder, an article in Time magazine eulogized the reporter, citing his decade-long pursuit of organized crime and corruption in Arizona. "Undaunted, Bolles also attacked Emprise Corp., a notorious sports enterprise controlled by Buffalo, N.Y. interests that had gained control of Arizona horse and dog racing tracks." (17) It wasn't the only story in a high-profile publication drawing attention to the state, either. Within a few months, three dozen investigative journalists descended on Phoenix to sleuth out all the grisly details - an effort which became known as "The Arizona Project" (originally "The Phoenix Project).  Such was the publicity surrounding this episode that the state legislature ordered the divestment of the Emprise/Funk monopoly that same year.

Prosecuting the homicide was a more complicated undertaking. Although it was technically not under his jurisdiction, Attorney General Babbitt wrested control of the case from the Maricopa County district attorney. Adamson, the murderer, had been apprehended at a bar. He initially denied any involvement with help from his lawyer, Neal Roberts, who provided him with an alibi.  When that didn’t fly, Adamson resorted to Plan B.  Admitting he planted the dynamite, he secured a lighter sentence by implicating two other men he claimed had issued his marching orders.  

Site of the bombing of Don Bolles' car in 1976Don Bolles' White Datsun  -- The bomb beneath his car was detonated using a remote device.

Max Dunlap, a local developer and friend of Kemper Marley, was charged with masterminding the murder, apparently out of a pathological devotion to a man he regarded as a father figure.  Or so the state argued at trial.  Adamson testified that Dunlap asked him to kill Bruce Babbitt as well.

Dunlap’s wife and friends found the charges absurd. Mrs. Dunlap claimed that Marley had never been like a father to her husband. (18) Neither did facts on the ground support the state’s theory of the case. Bolles’ wife told police that she and her husband were receiving death threats because of his inquiries into the Emprise/Funk race track business, not the articles about Marley.  Across town, Adamson’s wife told police officer Harry Hawkins that her husband worked for Emprise and could probably be found at the Apache Junction racetrack. (19)

Like the Warren Commission investigating the JFK assassination, the Arizona authorities mostly disregarded testimony from the key women in the case.  Adamson’s wife also later denied her "works for Emprise" statement. So Dunlap and a local plumber named James Robison (who Adamson claimed had built the bomb) were tried and convicted of murdering Don Bolles. 

Three years later, in 1980, Arizona’s supreme court threw out both verdicts. Adamson’s plea bargain was likewise tossed, after which he was tried and convicted of first degree murder. Significantly, Phoenix  officer Hawkins told Barbara Dunlap's private investigator that he was ordered by superiors to purge the Bolles case file of any damaging material about Emprise.  One file in particular had been compiled by the department's organized crime unit, to which Hawkins belonged.  In response, Dunlap and his wife sued the department, naming nine policemen  alleged to have tampered with the evidence. (20)

It was at about this time that Jeremy Jacobs gazed out his office window at the street signs below (Delaware and North), and decided that it was time for another name change.

He needn’t have bothered. The civil suit was thrown out on a date filing technicality. In 1992, Dunlap and Robison were retried for the Bolles murder. This time a witness came forward for the defense and identified Adamson’s attorney, Neal Roberts, as the person who set up the hit. It was never clear who ordered and paid to have the deed done, however, since Roberts repeatedly stated in his testimony that he couldn't recall events 15 years in the past. One detail he did remember clearly was that on on the day of the murder, he was at the airport dropping off a greyhound dog for shipment. (21) 

The defense claim about Roberts ordering the hit didn't prevail. Dunlap was convicted a second time and sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 2009. Tried separately, Robison was acquitted, but then charged and convicted of plotting to have Adamson killed before the trial. He served five years.  Adamson himself left prison in 1996 and went into federal witness protection, courtesy of an even sweeter deal he negotiated than when the case was first tried.

Making an Offer Almost Everyone Can Refuse

The timing of the Dunlap retrial suggests other motives may have been in play than Arizona state officials extracting revenge for an embarrassing civil lawsuit. In 1991, while state prosecutors were preparing their case, back in Washington Secretary of Interior Manuel Lujan was laying the groundwork for a change of concessionaires at Yosemite. A Japanese firm had just acquired Yosemite Park Curry Company by way of its purchase of entertainment giant MCA, which counted YPCC among its holding.  Normally, the concessionaire would have benefitted from a preferential renewal clause placed in the last contract that was signed in 1942.

Lujan cut the Japanese off at the pass.  Launching a media blitz, he denounced the introduction of foreign management into a national park concession.  Then he squeezed the new owner, Matsushita Corporation, because the firm hadn’t submitted the sale for prior government approval. Matsushita demurred, pulled up its stakes and agreed to sell all its assets to the park's next concessionaire. (22)

Enter Delaware North.  As part of its bid, the company accepted an unusual NPS provision that called for the new concessionaire to not only buy YPCC at a set price, but to assume its environmental liabilities without placing any ceiling on the potential clean-up costs.  NPS had reported the existence of 27 underground fuel tanks which might be leaking, as well as the presence of asbestos in obsolete structures and other possible problems.  However, it never bothered to quantify those costs, leaving bidders in limbo about what to expect. (23)

The proposed contract terms also demanded that Yosemite's next concessionaire reduce the amount of non-camping accommodations in the valley by 20 percent (15 percent in Yosemite Valley), consolidate souvenir and other retail shops into one or two locations, set aside a percentage of earnings for a capital improvement fund, and move the company headquarters and employee housing outside the park.  In all, an estimated $100 million worth of demolition and reconstruction was expected over the life of the contract. Perhaps the only thing that could have made the deal more unattractive would have been calling for the establishment of a leper colony at Toulomne Meadows.

Cabin map of Curry Village

Reducing commercial clutter in the park??? Posted map of DNC's Curry Village entertainment hub.

In fact, many of the provisions set out in the offer would never be implemented. For example:

FEMA trailers used as employee housing

FEMA-provided living quarters installed for DNC's yearround employees after the 1997 flood. The site was later dubbed the "Trainwreck" because that's what the Google satellite image calls to mind. This photo was taken in 2009.

Could it be that the veritable Marshall Plan called for in the NPS prospectus was actually a ploy to discourage DNC's competition? John Emshwille's 1994 Wall Street Journal article appears to have suggested just that when he said of CEO Jeremy Jacobs, "He has sought help from local politicians and a president of the U.S., while using his vast wealth -- estimated at half a billion dollars -- to reward allies and punish enemies." As it happened, those competitors who did take a stab at the contract  invariably set limits on the amount of toxic liabilities they were willing to shoulder. DNC did not. (27) That opened the door for NPS reviewers to proclaim DNC the only finalist to unconditionally agree to all the criteria.  Congress would have to pass a law, the officials pointed out, if it wanted to legally block the award.

Of course, there was still DNC’s glaring lack of experience in the hotel biz to consider. The company promised to bring in staff from several Australian resorts it owned to direct that part of the operation. Well, it looked like foreign operators might be running the show after all. If Lujan disapproved, he kept it to himself. However, he left office a month later without actually signing off on the deal.

That weighty decision would fall to his successor.  Environmentalists feverishly awaited Pres. Clinton’s choice for the crucial appointment to head the Interior Department.  As it happened, his pick received support from both the Sierra Club and DNC. All those years of campaign contributions now paid off as Bruce Babbitt was sworn in as the new secretary of interior. After promising in January 1993 to take a hard look at the selection of DNC, Arizona's former attorney general announced six months later that it was too late for a re-do of the bidding process.  (28)

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt  ------- Delaware North Companies CEO Jeremy Jacobs

On the left, Bruce Babbitt during his years as Secretary of the Interior.  On the right, Jeremy Jacobs, Chairman and CEO of Delaware North Companies for the last 42 years.  Interestingly, Jacobs' three sons - but not his daughters - serve as officers and directors of the firm.

Once the darling of the conservation movement, Babbitt’s ratings within that sphere began to nosedive soon after that.  In 2001, after leaving the Clinton Administration, he went to work as a consultant for Latham and Watkins, described by Counterpunch magazine as “a big Washington law firm whose clients include some of the roughest environmental pillagers in the business.”  The article explained: “Babbitt defended his about-face by saying that he needs to make money to pay off his legal bills stemming from an independent counsel investigation into whether or not he committed perjury when he said he did not try to shake down Indian tribes for campaign contributions.” (29)

And how heart-warming is that? Meanwhile, back in Buffalo, Jeremy Jacobs and Delaware North continue to show the world that no obstacle is insurmountable –  whether it's being caught redhanded aiding and abetting mobsters, propping up an industry that incarcerates or destroys thousands of animals annually, or what have you. 

Like a bobcat, Jacobs always lands on his feet.  From such unpromising entries on his resume as operating "a notorious sports enterprise", to job references like "moral turpitude, is of bad moral character, and has a bad reputation for truth, honesty and integrity," the billionaire is today serving his third term on the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board of the Department of Commerce.

Whether the family business will get to renew its mining claim at Yosemite National Park remains to be seen. In the meantime, if you’d like to make a wager, be sure to check out those private corrals at Max’s Sports Bar.

This article was orignally published July 27, 2010 and revised many times afterward

The author has worked seasonally for the three top national park concessionaires, including DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite, Aramark and Xanterra.  


1.  "Yosemite Pact Given by U.S. to Stadium Firm”.  By Maura Dolan. Los Angeles Times
December 18, 1992.   | Return

2.  "Yosemite Concessions Contract.”  Proceedings of the House Comm. On Natural Resources. March 24, 1993. ISBN 0-16-041759-7   | Return

"Hill Controversy Looms On Yosemite Concession."  By Don Phillips. The Washington Post 12/18/92.  | Return

Solicitation  for proposals for a new Concession Contract to provide hospitality services including Lodging, Food and Beverage, Retail, Auto, and Other Services within Yosemite National Park.  Solicitation Number: YOSE004-16. Retrieved 10/1/14.   | Return

5.   "What has Louie Wrought."  By John Underwood  and Morton Sharnik.  Sports Illustrated 5/29/72. Retrieved 7/2/10.  | Return

6.   "Hot Dogs, Beer, And Car Bombs.." By Don Bauder. San Diego Reader 4/29/04.;  "Phoenix Rising."  By C.D. Stelzer.  Riverfront Times (St. Louis) 6/11/97.   | Return

7.    "Parimutuels Trying to Shake Emprise Image." Daytona Beach Morning Journal 1/5/77,1370177  | Return

8.    Ibid.  Former Attorney General Richard Kleindienst also got in on the action.  In 1974, after pleading to a misdemeanor in the Watergate cover-up, he was sent out to pitch Teamsters President Frank Fitzimmons for a loan to develop a racetrack in Henderson, Nevada.  For more on this, see the 5/6/81 article in the Prescott Courier,743256  | Return

9.   Delaware North Companies Incorporated." International Directory of Company Histories 1993. (retrieved June 22, 2010).   | Return

10.   New games make Southland park more competitive.”  Memphis Business Journal 5/4/07.   | Return

"Greyhound racing: Typical life of a racing greyhound dog”.  By Lorie Huston, Pet Health Examiner.. 5/28/10. | Return

12.   “Greyhound Racing”. Last Chance for Animals website.  Retrieved 6/24/10 updated 3/4/14.   | Return 

13. “American Greyhound Dog Racing”.  DNC website. Retrieved 6/22/10.   | Return

14. “The Birmingham Race Course”  Retrieved 6/22/10.   | Return

15.   "Sins of the Father? Concession King's Son Fights Mob Stigma As He Builds Empire; Delaware North's Businesses Appear Gangster-Free, But Regulators Wonder; Hosting You at Yosemite." 
By John R. Emshwiller.  Wall Street Journal 11/17/94. Login may be required. | Return

For years, conspiracy theorists have had a field day with Kemper Marley, mostly because his first lieutenant, Jim Hensley, was Senator John McCain's father-in-law.  When Marley's United Liquor company was shut down in 1948 and 52 employees prosecuted for violating liquor laws, Hensley allegedly took the wrap for his boss and served his prison time.  (Both Marley and Hensley were prosecuted for similar charges in 1953, but an attorney by the name of William Rendquist successfully defended both.)  As a reward for his loyalty, Marley bequeathed Hensley a Budweiser distributorship. More importantly, Marley was allegedly tied to mobster Meyer Lansky, the Bronfman Family of Montreal (which owns Seagrams) and Emprise in a criminal underworld that included narcotics trafficking and international geopolitical intrigue. For a taste of the conspiracy theory, see the 8/18/08 post at the Daily Kos. and the book Dope, Inc.  For more on the Bronfman family, check out the History Channel program Rumrunners and Prohibition.  | Return

17.   "Crime: They Finally Got Me.”  Time Magazine 6/28/76.,9171,911808,00.html  | Return

18.   "Dunlap supporters maintain innocence after 2 convictions."  By Megan Irwin.  Arizona Republic 5/28/06.   | Return

 Lake Headley, a private investigator hired by Barbara Dunlap, examined the
police investigation and cover-up in his 1990 book, Loud and Clear.   Several excerpts are posten online. The two listed here recount his conversations with Harry Hawkins and the existence of the so-called File 851 concerning Emprise:    | Return

"What does Neal Roberts Know?”  By Tom Fitzpatrick.  Phoenix Newtimes 12/8/93.    “Cops Skate on Bolles Murder Case.”  By Paul Rubin Phoenix Newtimes 2/22/89    | Return

"What does Neal Roberts Know?”  See #20.  | Return

22.    Lujan Misleading Public on Yosemite Plans, Two Charge.”  By Alan Citron.  Los Angeles Times 1/3/91.  | Return

"Yosemite Concessions Contract.”  Proceedings of the House Comm. On Natural Resources. March 24, 1993. ISBN 0-16-041759-7    | Return

24.   "Shopping in Yosemite".  DNC Parks and Resorts Yosemite website.  
 | Return

"An Unwelcome Surprise From Yosemite Innkeeper."   By Christopher Reynolds.  Los Angeles Times 7/29/2001.   | Return

Tourism Falls / Repaired Yosemite still awaits usual flood of summer visitors.”  By Harriet Chiang.  San Francisco Chronicle 7/14/97.    | Return

27.  See note #23.    | Return

28.   "
Babbitt Refuses to Void Yosemite Pact."  By Marla Cone.  Los Angeles Times 6/24/93.    | Return

29.   “Bruce Babbitt: Man Without Shame.”  Counterpunch 7/30/2001.    | Return

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