TONY BAMONTE, the former chief law enforcement officer of Pend Oreille County, was hoping Eric Holder, the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, would do his job. Half a year ago, the former sheriff sent the U.S. Attorney General a carefully documented 2,000-page criminal complaint alleging that:
- Spokane’s—or rather the Cowles family’s—River Park Square “public/private partnership” was actually a proven but un-prosecuted case of financial fraud that was the fruit of organized crime. Bamonte charges that the Cowleses, one of America’s last media dynasties, use the carrot and stick of their press to reward public officials who help them and punish those who don’t. Prime examples, he says, are flattering stories about U.S. Senator Patty Murray, who helped the family fraudulently leverage a $23 million federal HUD loan that was funneled into the redevelopment of River Park Square (see April Fooled at www.camasmagazine.com), and the political character assassination of Mayor John Talbott, who tried to expose the HUD fraud. For his temerity, the Cowles-owned Spokesman-Review newspaper twice branded Talbott a “civic terrorist.” (See All in the Family and Inside Job on the Camas site.) Bamonte charges that such practices constitute a criminal use of misinformation that is integral to the organized criminal activities with which he charges the Cowleses. Underscoring the integral character of Cowles criminality, he says, is evidence showing that the family used its media to misinform the public about how public funds were being laundered into their mall while also mounting a secret political campaign to remove Talbott from office. (See, among other stories, Breaking the News, and Document of the Week—March 7, 2004—How a publishing heiress went after an uncooperative mayor, and Missing Man on the Camas site.)
- The April 8, 2006 death of Jo Ellen Savage in the RPS garage was an easily provable case of first-degree manslaughter, “which is a form of murder.” (See Death by Parking and Deathtrap at www.girlfromhotsprings.com.)
General Holder ignored Sheriff Bamonte’s complaint. An anonymous soul deep in the bowels of the U.S. Dept. of Justice, a member of the Dickensian-sounding “Correspondence Staff, Office of Administration,” recently sent Bamonte an unsigned letter: “We regret the delay responding to your letter,” wrote the furtive correspondent… but we’re not going to do anything. You can read the letter for yourself, attached here.
Bamonte spent 25 years in law enforcement. In his experience this is not the way you enforce the law. The way you enforce the law is:
- Study the evidence.
- Review applicable statutes.
- If #1 reveals breakage of #2, act.
In his 25 years as a cop Bamonte was known as an action Jackson kind of guy. (See America’s Most Dangerous Cop, below in this blog roll.)
Bamonte’s standard of practice as a policeman was simple: just because a lawbreaker chooses not to obey the law doesn’t make that an acceptable option. This is true for speeders, thieves, wife-beaters, killers, media barons—and public officials.
In Bamonte’s world the law is nothing less than the DNA of private and cultural survival. The law is the community’s communication that the community is more important than the individual. When all is said and done, the law is really just horse sense recognition that the individual needs the clan to survive. At the heart of the law, then, is a promise of companionship when the chips are down. What that always meant to Bamonte as a cop is that you engage in the communication necessary to honor the law and protect the community.
It’s been 20 years since Bamonte wore a badge. These days, with his wife, Suzanne, he’s a writer and publisher of history books (he was just voted Spokane’s favorite author by Spokane Magazine), a passionate camper (he and Suzanne roam the Northwest in their elegant Ford F-450 and luxurious camper to do their field research), and a devoted rescuer of stray cats. (At the rear of the Bamontes’ garden is a complex of heated “kitty condos” where homeless felines can escape the winter snows.)
Nevertheless, the ethics that guided Bamonte as a sworn officer of the law still guide him as a citizen sworn to the same social contract. So the other day, former Sheriff Tony Bamonte wrote U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and asked him to stop fooling around and do his job. Bamonte copied that letter to President Barack Obama. He asked the President, as the nation’s chief executive officer, to make General Holder do his job. (Read Bamonte’s letter here.)
Bamonte thinks it was his job to write that letter. And he thinks the President’s oath of office requires him to instruct the Attorney General to perform his duty.
A couple of things interest me about this not-so-little drama.
The first is that, whether the President ever sees the former sheriff’s letter, let alone acknowledges it, the letter was sent at a time when, for a variety of reasons, the chips are down for the American people—perhaps as never before. If ever there was a time when the American community—the American family, the American clan—desperately needed its government to honor the law and keep its covenants with them, that time is now. Corruption is as out of control in America as obesity. This at a time when challenges at home and abroad require historic moral and physical fitness of the nation.
The timing of Bamonte’s letter is especially awkward for the President himself in this fevered political season. More and more people who sent the President and his party to the White House now wonder if they made a mistake.
An earlier generation, although one of a different political bent, had similar doubts when the Watergate scandal broke. Fortunately—and not just for that generation—an “old incredible bastard” (President Nixon’s phrase) emerged to remind America of its values. That was Sam Ervin, the U.S. Senator from North Carolina.
Ervin scolded the Watergate perpetrators, who had broken their vows to society.
Ervin’s immortal words: “Men upon whom fortune had smiled benevolently and who possessed great financial power, great political power, and great governmental power undertook to nullify the laws of man and the laws of God for the purpose of gaining what history will call a very temporary political advantage.”
Famously, Sen. Ervin posed one of the great transformational leadership questions in U.S. history. Namely, whether the nation still wanted a government of laws and not of men.
A government of laws, of course, is what the Fourth of July celebrates. Government of men is the rule of tyranny over which America triumphed, shooting a beacon of hope around the world.
The nation’s answer to Sen. Ervin’s nettlesome question sent the 37th president into political disgrace and historical exile. It let the 38th president, Gerald Ford, announce: “… our great Republic is a Government of laws and not of men…”
Naturally, everyone knows about Watergate. Watergate, after all, was a crime involving the most powerful man on earth in the capitol of the world’s most powerful nation.
In contrast, almost no one knows about the River Park Square crimes Sheriff Bamonte alleges. River Park Square is just a downtown shopping mall in a little town most Americans don’t even know how to pronounce. (It’s Spocan, not Spocane.)
As political dramas go, Watergate seems to be Broadway. RPS seems like small town civic theater. But is it?
Watergate concerned a president who lied about political dirty tricks and dirty money being laundered into the purchase of the office of the “leader of the free world.” And it was about a former U.S. Attorney General (John Mitchell) who went to prison for his role in that crime.
Sheriff Bamonte’s criminal complaint concerns dirty money, too. And it is every bit as much a microscope slide of the deadly disease of public corruption against which democracy must endlessly defend itself or die.
Bamonte’s criminal complaint is based on accepted evidence that taxpayers were defrauded—retired economic crimes Det. Ron Wright has crunched the numbers and puts the tab at at least $87 million—by a highly orchestrated violation of municipal securities law, and also compelling evidence that a woman died as a result of criminal negligence on the part of those who orchestrated the fraud. Bamonte wrote Obama because every level of government, now including Obama’s Administration, has ignored the evidence and failed to enforce the law.
“RPS is now about the Obama Administration rendering criminal assistance to organized crime.” —Sheriff Tony Bamonte
“At first, my complaint was about organized crime at a local level,” says Bamonte. “It’s not just that anymore. Now it’s about government rendering criminal assistance to organized crime.”
And the buck stops with Obama.
But who is a former sheriff from a rural county in the woods of northeastern Washington, a rescuer of stray cats, to challenge a man with nuclear weapons at his disposal? That’s the part of Bamonte’s efforts that intrigues me.
“What I’m doing here takes patience,” says Bamonte. “There have always been people who break the law and there always will be. I know from experience that you can’t catch every criminal. But you can catch a lot of them if you take your time. And you can catch some of the worst if you’re systematic about it.”
Patience and commitment are what allowed Sheriff Bamonte to solve America’s oldest open murder case (see America’s Most Dangerous Cop and Deathtrap), and even retrieve the rusted remains of the murder weapon—a pistol—after the powerful Spokane River had thundered over it for half a century.
But I don’t think it’s just his tactical patience that gives Bamonte an advantage. What puts him on the right side of history, I think, is the historically validated power of truth verses the force of injustice. Truth, as Gandhi showed, aggregates mighty energies that stir humanity’s soul. Force creates counter-force and spends itself.
Power ennobles. Force debases.
Power is what let a “90-pound colored man,” as Gandhi has been called, bring the British Empire to its knees.
Ironically, power is also what let Churchill rally the British people against the Third Reich when their shared oaken heart—if they could find it—was all they really had. It wasn’t the “empire” Churchill saved—it was a spent force and couldn’t be saved. Churchill saved the British people by reminding them, as Sen. Ervin reminded the American people a generation later, of the bond they shared.
That bond, I think, reflects natural law. There’s a reason that human and animal societies bond together. It’s because they have to—the universe requires it of them—if they are to endure with any semblance of well-being.
I think it’s this honoring of natural law that gives us goose bumps sometimes when we hear the national anthem, that makes us feel as though we’re kneeling before what is truly Almighty. It’s this honoring of natural law, not some satrap’s mouthing of cheap jingoisms, that still sends the yearning, huddled, tired poor to our teeming shores. It’s not just free air they seek but the sun itself. Who doesn’t?
And that’s why there’s this tiny hieroglyphic in our genes that instructs us that in the end right must win. It will win, because it is the law upon which all other law is based. It is The Way. The only real question is whether we obey natural law or succumb to the terminal spirit sickness of fighting it.
It seems to take the darkest moments to bring forth those capable of reminding us of the truths referred to in the Declaration of Independence. They only become self-evident when we hurt enough to make us face the evidence. And what the evidence tells us, of course, is that we are not independent. We are not created to be. We are dependent upon the Energy from which life comes.
The evidence contained in Sheriff Bamonte’s complaint, I think, makes it clear that we really do live in one of those Condition Red times when there’s no safe alternative to facing the music.
Based on the lofty campaign rhetoric that swept him into office, Barack Obama should be able to appreciate such lessons of history if anyone can. Bamonte clearly has the patience to see what kind of student the President turns out to be—and the historian’s character to find the answer fascinating.