American Serbia

“ONCE THE SERBIAN STATE had transformed itself into a criminal enterprise, many Serbs turned themselves, willingly or reluctantly, into criminals,” writes David Samuels in last week’s issue of The New Yorker (4/12/10). You’ll find that passage on page 50 in a fascinating article, “The Pink Panthers,” about an international gang of diamond thieves.

The words reminded me of something former Spokane Mayor John Talbott wrote the other day about the city he briefly led.

“Let me flash back to my youth, and what I learned to live with was an adult thing in Spokane called a ‘shadow government’, a very real but elusive thing that affected everything about Spokane. During my journey I found that ‘shadow government’ was everywhere.” (See comment in “Fire and Fraud in Spokane” below.)

We live in a time of extreme political rhetoric. So where do we file these comments? Under the same heading as charges that Presidents Bush and Obama were/are enemies of their own state?

Life would be so much less messy if the facts didn’t support the mayor.  What is more chilling is that evidence of the shadow he refers to is so great as to suggest that Spokane’s government, and the state and federal governments it has corrupted, actually are enemies of the state.

The evidence shows, for instance, that an extraordinary cast of public officials conspired with the Cowles family to illegally leverage some $100 million in public funds to redevelop River Park Square, the downtown Spokane shopping mall the family owns. At www.camasmagazine, please see, “inter alia,” as the lawyers like to say, “Secret Deal,” “All In the Family,” “Inside Job,” “Under the Influence,” “The Casino was Rigged,” “Missing Man,” “Fraudville, USA,” “Breaking the News,” “A New RPS Fraud?” and “McDevitt’s Fingerprints.”

What facts cited in that reporting show is that Betsy and Stacey Cowles, sister and brother, engineered the RPS fraud, and that lawyers on the public payroll helped them. Betsy Cowles runs her family’s real estate empire. Stacey Cowles publishes the family’s Spokesman-Review newspaper.

These facts also suggest to me that former Spokesman-Review editor Chris Peck committed “actual malice” when he twice branded Mayor Talbott a “civic terrorist.” Actual malice, the gold standard of the worst kind of journalism, was established in the landmark New York Times Co. v. Sullivan case. Actual malice means a journalist printed something the journalist knew wasn’t true.

What the “civic terrorism” Peck accused Talbott of came down to was the mayor’s attempt to understand the fine print of the $23 federal HUD loan guarantee the Cowleses were able to use to redevelop their mall. The evidence, as subsequently developed by securities fraud plaintiffs and reporting done by Tim Connor and me, showed that the loan turned on fraud orchestrated by Peck’s employers, with inside help from Senator Patty Murray (see “April Fooled” on the Camas site) and Spokane officials (“Inside Job”). What makes Peck’s calumny actual malice libel is that he possessed a memo written by the city’s lawyers supporting Talbott’s concerns. Some of Peck’s editors and reporters wanted to publish the memo, but he wouldn’t let them. See “All In the Family,” cited above, for details.

Bottom line: when Peck squeezed off on his actual malice character assassination of Mayor Talbott, his blood was as cold as a Balkan War sniper’s. He knew exactly what he was doing. So did his bosses. So did the city’s lawyers. In the shadow land of Spokane government, John Talbott made a great example.

The evidence also shows that the Cowleses covered up for more than a decade a deadly hazard in their RPS parking garage. On April 8, 2006, that hazard claimed the life of one of the family’s garage patrons. Please see the stories “Death by Parking” and “Deathtrap” at

This evidence has been in the public for years. In fact, plaintiffs cited some of it in their successful federal securities fraud lawsuit against the city, Cowles real estate companies, and others. And the IRS cited it in its ruling that the RPS garage bonds violated federal tax law. If you’ve followed the RPS scandal and the tragic death in the RPS garage, you may be aware of much of it. You may know, too, that the IRS noted the Cowles family’s ability to control Spokane government. (See the IRS report, attached to “The Casino Was Rigged,” referenced above.)

But that’s not the evidence I found myself first thinking of when I read Mayor Talbott’s “shadow” comments. The evidence my mind ran to lies deeper in the shadows.

It consists of documents that, according to a distinguished former sheriff, implicates Stacey Cowles in first-degree manslaughter; implicates Mayor Mary Verner in aiding and abetting the organized crime that the sheriff accuses the Cowles family of running—and which he charges led to the RPS garage manslaughter; and implicates Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, and the U.S. Department of Justice in covering up.

The first document is an email then Councilwoman, now Mayor, Mary Verner sent to Bamonte on November 2, 2007. Bamonte is a lifelong Democrat, former Pend Oreille County party chairman, and candidates for public office often seek his support. Mary Verner did. Bamonte arranged a gathering for her at his home, where he asked her if she would commit to expose the RPS fraud if she were elected mayor. According to Bamonte and others at the meeting, she promised to do just that.

Former Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers warned against trusting Verner’s promises. Rodgers was disgusted with Verner’s role in settling the RPS securities fraud case. (See “A New RPS Fraud?” on the Camas site.) “Mary Verner will stab you in the back over River Park Square,” Rodgers warned.

Still, Bamonte took Verner at her word. But he grew suspicious when Verner failed to respond to RPS evidence he was sending her, including evidence that the 2006 death of Jo Ellen Savage in the RPS parking garage was first-degree manslaughter, with Cowles family members as the prime suspects.

Days before the election, Verner finally responded to Bamonte. “I recognize the huge issues of morality, courage, and strength of character involved in taking on the RPS issue,” she wrote in her Nov. 2, 2007 email.  “I also know that if I make RPS a cornerstone of my campaign platform, the ‘powers that be’ will ensure that I do not get elected … period.”

Bamonte interpreted that as evidence that Verner recognized that the Cowles family ran Spokane. As soon as she was elected, she appointed Stacey Cowles and other RPS proponents to her transition committee.

“I knew at that moment the Cowleses had corrupted her,” says Bamonte. He says he also understood Verner’s fear after reading on the Camas Web site the story about the Betsy Cowles memo showing that she and her publisher brother Stacey meant to run a secret campaign to remove Talbott from office. See attached memo. See also “Document of the Week: How a publishing heiress went after an uncooperative mayor” on the Camas site at

Verner has declined my requests to discuss her “powers that be” email.

The second document is an email that Stacey Cowles sent to Bamonte on June 5, 2008. Bamonte had sent Cowles questions as part of his research into the RPS fraud and death of the parker in the RPS garage. In his email, Cowles claimed that “nothing in the history of the garage would indicate that its ownership had a reckless or any other kind of disregard for human safety… We did not advise the driver to test our barriers…”

Cowles’s statement directly contradicts a declaration signed by former RPS garage manager Rex Franklin three months after the garage fatality. In that statement, Franklin cited evidence that the Cowles family had been playing Russian roulette with the lives of its unsuspecting customers for at least 16 years before the 2006 tragedy. In light of that evidence, says Bamonte, Cowles’s remark that “We did not advise the driver to test our barriers” constitutes evidence of reckless disregard for human life that is the condition of first-degree manslaughter.

The final document is a memo to file written by former Washington State Bar Assn. president David Savage. The memo records a call Savage received from Washington State Assistant Attorney General Scott Marlow. It was Savage’s ex-wife, Jo Ellen Savage, who was killed in the RPS garage when a barrier failed and ejected her car from the facility’s seventh floor. Savage’s notes record that Marlow acknowledged that his ex-wife’s death had not been properly investigated because of “an effort of political cover.”

This memo also implicates every level of government, from the City and County of Spokane through the U.S Department of Justice in covering up the criminal actions that killed Jo Ellen Savage, says Bamonte. Reason: Bamonte has submitted several thousand pages of evidence that has been ignored at every government level.

These documents from what Mayor Talbott refers to as Spokane’s “shadows” make me think of two other excerpts from The New Yorker’s diamond thieves story.

First, the corruption of Serbian government under President Slobodan Milosevic was so complete, writes reporter Samuels, that, “… a generation of young people, who had grown up in a state run by thieves, murderers, and other criminals, went looking for work outside Serbia’s borders.”

The second is a quote from former Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic. “‘By definition, organized crime is connected to the state.’ Zivkovic said, in a charmingly pedantic way. For years, he said, criminal clans in Serbia had their own police officers, lawyers, judges, doctors, journalists, and financial advisors.”

Spokane, a city of shadows, an American Serbia? Review the evidence yourself and see what you think. Please use the comments section of this blog to share your thoughts.


Filed under Public Corruption

10 responses to “American Serbia

  1. Wayne B. Kraft

    My memory is somewhat long, and I have never forgiven Chris Peck his hatchet job against Mayor Talbott. I believe that Larry Shook characterizes it accurately as an exercise of “actual malice.” We are living today with the legacy of Chris Peck and that of his masters.

    Spokane’s on-street parking rates increased substantially in November 2007, as did the number of hours of the day when metered parking must be paid. Spokane citizens should recognize this happy circumstance as the fulfillment of Chris Peck’s vision.

    Chris Peck has always claimed that his editorial positions regarding River Park Square were free of the influence of the Cowles family and its development companies. And publisher W. Stacey Cowles himself weighed in on this issue, writing: “Editor Chris Peck and his team faced a very complex and controversial story. … At no time did I or any other member of my family direct any coverage or directly edit any coverage.” (The Spokesman-Review, May 5, 2007)

    Chris Peck was not particularly pleased with Stacey Cowles’ editorial nor with the “Independent Analysis of The Spokesman-Review’s Coverage of and Role in the Spokane River Park Square Redevelopment Project prepared and published by the Washington News Council” ( The Spokeman-Review printed a petulant and disingenuous response from Chris Peck a week later (

    Whether with or without the direction of the Cowles family, Chris Peck was able to interpret their interests pretty faithfully. On Sunday, April 2, 2000, by way of example, Chris Peck provided an editorial for The Spokesman-Review that urged the City Council to “offer some kind of help” to the River Park Square parking garage. He organized his argument around three major points.

    “First,” he wrote, “it’s a matter of government keeping its word.” This became the theme of a full-page ad by the Cowles family in The Spokesman-Review of April 25th (B5).

    “Second,” according to Chris Peck in the same editorial, “the garage is still a good investment for the city.” This became the theme of another full-page ad by the Cowles family in The Spokesman-Review on April 25th (A6).

    “Third,” wrote Peck on April 2nd, “the continued pledging of parking meter revenue is a clean way to track the costs of this project and minimize impact on other city projects.” Peck went on to suggest that “people who park at meters are simply helping fund another place for themselves to park, in a covered garage.”

    Mr. Peck thought that people who park at meters should be happy to know that they are—in some convenient way—paying double: They are paying for their own metered space on the street and, at the same time, they are subsidizing a parking place for someone else in a covered garage.

    So, Mr. Peck, thanks for the thought! Our on-street parking fees will keep us paying double until the tens of millions of dollars of costs to the city have been retired. Let’s plug a downtown meter for Chris Peck!

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  3. Dick Adams

    I got to thinking this morning about something I read in the Spokesman-Review, Sunday, April 18, 2010 in Opinion: “Hard as it is, clean up river” by Terry J. Harris, Special to The Spokesman-Review.

    “After 12 years of modeling, studying, negotiation, lawsuits, more studying, more lawsuits, more modeling and more negotiation, nutrient pollution continues to feed…” (and goes on)

    I did not cut and paste the full story for obvious reasons. My point is, the story did not name Inland Empire Paper Company, owed by the owners of the Spokesman Review, or AVISTA. They are two of the worst polluters contaminating the Spokane river and have been so for many, many years. I would think the author would name a few of the worst polluters and opine about Empire Paper. I’ll leave my thoughts about AVISTA for another day.

    The Cowleses are not bashful and do not have a problem bragging to the public about what great civic partners they are. They give the impression they are benevolent and give to the community more than they take. What rubbish. Reading about the Spokane river, and the EPA concerns of the past several months in particular, you’d think they just found out they were one of the worst pollsters of the Spokane river. It’s not from a lack of intelligence on their part, yet they paint a picture of their corporate benevolence while blindfolding the citizens who are taken in with their lies. Is it any wonder that many of us criticize the terribly irresponsible behavior of family members who stop at nothing because of their greed and power?

    Even being accused of contributing to the death of Ms. Jo Savage, they have made no attempt to rectify the RPS parking garage structural problems that might have caused her death and might cause another.

    The owners of the Spokesman-Review show absolutely no shame when it comes to money. Unfortunately they possess the tools to cover up anything they want to, being the only game in town. Newspaper, Business Journal, TV, Radio and the beat goes on and on, with holdings most citizens of Spokane know nothing about. They knew full well about their pollution to the Spokane river that their paper mill created. Good honest reporting from the get go would have shut down the paper mill operation years ago or forced remedial actions and pollution equipment to stop ruining the river.

    The death of Ms. Jo Savage and the cover-up thereto is unforgivable. Decades of the Cowleses blindfolding the public is finally catching up with them. The hoodwinking the Cowleses try to pull off with their newspaper censorship and cover-up reporting invites, as the saying goes, “What goes around comes around.” It’s coming. Most people who write letters to the editor know it’s rigged. I believe the people are starting to wake up. Just maybe, the Cowles Dynasty might be in big trouble.

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  5. Mr. Shook,

    I’m in total agreement with your assessment of Spokane in “American Serbia.” I voted for Mayor Verner in the last election as I believed she would bring about the change that is so desperately needed in Spokane government. I was wrong as you quote former Sheriff Bamonte, Mayor Vener turned her back on the people who elected her. So far Mayor Verner has been unwilling to confront the insidious influence that the Cowles Co. has on Spokane government. In the RPS frauds alone the Spokane taxpayers were robbed of $87.5 million dollars.

    In a recent S-R article thread on the death of Otto Zehm I posted a “punch list” of things that Mayor Verner has the authority/power to do immediately or can use her bully pulpit to lobby for that would be helpful:

    You responded with this comment:

    Detective Wright:

    Thank you for copying me on this. Unfortunately, as someone who has covered the RPS scandal for 11 years, I see no evidence that Cowles influence is on the wane. I don’t think Mayor Verner, with her fear of “the powers that be,” does either. (See “American Serbia” at Apparently Mayor Verner, along with public officials ranging all the way to the White House, have no trouble sleeping at night with the knowledge that public corruption continues to defraud Spokane’s citizens of tens of millions of dollars and can be directly linked to the death of Jo Ellen Savage in the RPS parking garage on April 8, 2006. (Please see “Death by Parking” and “Deathtrap” at So long as Mayor Verner, and her fellow “public servants” work for the “powers that be” and not those who elect them, Cowles influence not only will not wane, it will inevitably grow ever more virulent. Stacey Cowles apparently believes that Ms. Savage died because of her own carelessness (“American Serbia”), not because of Cowles family criminal negligence. Public corruption isn’t the kind of thing that fixes itself. Those who think it does may as well request assistance from Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. I think that those who prey on the public are like playground bullies who steal the milk money of weaker children. They do it because they can get away with it, and keep it up as long as they can.


    Larry Shook

    As I concluded in my report, “RPS Bond Frauds and Savage Manslaughter RICO Case,” & “Table of Evidence“:

    In conclusion in my 35-year career as a criminal investigator, this is certainly one of the most blatantly criminal enterprises I have ever encountered. It’s hard to find words to adequately describe it.

    The people have been repeatedly victimized by this criminal enterprise – this is organized crime. Organized crime cannot be appeased but must be destroyed because of its corrosive impact on government. The citizens of Spokane and the family of Jo Savage have a fundamental right to ensure that justice is served when their political/ governmental law enforcement bodies and decision makers because of their systemic co-option/ corruption can’t or won’t act to protect them from criminal victimization and from imminent public hazards.

    In our legal system the law is of, for and by the People – NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW.

    I would encourage all who are interested in real change in Spokane to join in this debate. For too long the people of Spokane have been shortchanged. For too long these are topics that have been hushed up. People willing to discuss them in the open have been retaliated against or marginalized by the Cowles Co or by their minions. These are issues that must be addressed. These issues can’t continue to be swept under the rug. These stories will eventually break. The Cowleses control on Spokane is on the wane. Spokane is set to grow significantly economically once the Cowleses’ yoke is removed.

    If this is upsetting to you, you can help by emailing Mayor Verner and the City Council and demanding they take immediate action on my “punch list.” Until the citizens of Spokane speak out, they will continue to be victimized by their own government and the criminal enterprise that has so thoroughly corrupted it.

    Mayor Verner –
    City Council –

    I would also ad this additional item to the punch list:

    The Mayor and the City Council proceed with a City Charter amendment that would eliminate the current unelected Spokane Park Board that receives 8% of the general fund revenues and replace it with a more representative body to the citizens and taxpayers.

    Det. Ron Wright (Retired)

  6. Mr. Shook,

    In expanding on my comment above, this post may be of interest to your readers. Two commenters in the recent S-R article thread of Mr. Cook entering the County Assessor’s race challenged me, and I replied:

    A Challenge to the Citizens of Spokane:

    Worthasecondlook sees conspiracy theories and wonders where the connection to Mr. Baker is. It’s Mr. Baker’s deference to Spokane’s “power elite” (more forthcoming on this relationship in a few days) is merely symptomatic of a ingrained culture of corruption in Spokane government that has so throttled political, economic and social development of Spokane for the last 100 years. This relationship has many parallels to medieval feudal societies with a ruling class and a complacent peasant class. The peasant class has no sense of self-efficacy and power within themselves to change the status quo brought on by many years of victimization.

    I’ve spent my whole adult life “connecting the dots” of the criminal element that would prey upon society. I have managed many complex criminal cases that eventually led to successful criminal prosecutions. And yes, Spokelooneh, it is time to move on. In our case we can’t move on, until the checks and balances of a normal political/government environment are restored.

    This feudal society is on the wane with the in migration of others not affected by this localized culture of victimization/behavior of deference to the power elite. These newcomers will demand transparency in their government entities. They are not satisfied with the status quo. Sorry, I don’t mean to be elitist, but having not grown up here, I have a different perspective and frame of reference. Things that are so apparent to me that others who have grown up here can’t or fail to see.

    It is the new/alternative/social media that will be the downfall of the House of Cowles. Until recently the Spokesman-Review could control the social narrative and discourse of events in Spokane as it relates to the criminal activities of its owners. The Spokesman-Review has served has an instrumentality of this criminal enterprise to conceal its criminal activities from the public by not reporting, self-censoring, under reporting, distorting and spinning stories of significance to the public.

    The Cowleses can no longer control the free flow of information and thought that will expose the very core of this pathologic relationship. This is why I challenged the S-R reporting on Mr. Cook’s political views as this is so typical of the M/O of the “la familia” to politically assassinate or marginalize those who would dare say in public that the, “Emperor wears no clothes.”

    As I conclude in my analysis for bringing a federal civil RICO action on behalf of the defrauded Spokane taxpayers to make them whole again and to destroy this criminal enterprise that is so entrenched in Spokane (RICO Cover Letter and Table of Evidence ):

    “In conclusion, in my 35-year career as a criminal investigator, this is certainly one of the most blatantly criminal enterprises I have ever encountered. It’s hard to find words to adequately describe it.

    The people have been repeatedly victimized by this criminal enterprise ⎯ this is organized crime. Organized crime cannot be appeased but must be destroyed because of its corrosive impact on government. The citizens of Spokane and the family of Jo Savage have a fundamental right to ensure that justice is served when their political/governmental/law enforcement bodies and decision makers, because of their systemic co-option/corruption, can’t or won’t act to protect them from criminal victimization and from imminent public hazards.

    In our legal system the law is of, for and by the People – NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW.”

    Please remember it is WE THE PEOPLE that empower those who WE CHOSE to govern. Hence my challenge to the people to demand that the Mayor and the City Council immediately implement this punch list ( ) to restore a civil government in Spokane that is responsive to WE THE PEOPLE.

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