“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 www.girlfromhotsprings.com.
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 http://www.camasmagazine.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?aid=181.
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.