Category Archives: Public Corruption

Spokane’s Anarchist Mayor

Spokane's Mayor Mary Verner

Dick Adams wrote an email to the Spokane, WA, City Council and Mayor Mary Verner last week that, when you put two and two together, has the effect of indicting the mayor for anarchy. Actually, the evidence suggests to me that the mayor effectively confessed to anarchy three years ago with a surprisingly candid email she wrote to a former sheriff. Mr. Adams’s email shows what Mayor Verner’s anarchy is costing her citizens.

Mr. Adams objected  to consideration that Spokane chief financial officer Gavin Cooley is giving to “charging our city credit card” by selling $45 million of councilmanic bonds. Mr. Adams told me that he considers this an illegal use of public debt because its purpose is to solve a financial crisis caused by an earlier illegal use of public debt. Mr. Cooley is an agent of both frauds, charges Mr. Adams, which stem from the River Park Square financial scandal.

Dick Adams is hardly alone in decrying such abuse of public finance as part of a much larger pattern of government behavior in America today. A retired executive of a U.S. Steel subsidiary, Mr. Adams is well known for his financial expertise. Over the years he has been one of the closest and most knowledgeable observers of municipal finance in Spokane. Not just Teapartiers agree with him that America’s fiscal lawlessness has become nothing less than a government Ponzi scheme now threatening  the country with an historic economic catastrophe.

In this heist, never-ending layers of debt are added to sub-layers. (Mr. Adams is horrified that American citizens now owe nearly a trillion dollars to China.) Much of this debt, as in the case of Wall Street’s 2008 meltdown and its globally transmitted fiscal disease of derivatives, is directly traceable to criminal activity. The criminal enterprise involves government officials helping private interests steal money from the public. The criminals keep getting away with their crime because of the gangsterization of government. Government criminals, naturally, will not prosecute themselves for their crimes.

At the heart of the 2008 meltdown is a structural accounting fraud that U.S. government leaders embedded in the global economy with their refusal to regulate derivatives and impose generally accepted accounting principles on them. That refusal is why uber investor Warren Buffett called derivatives “weapons of financial mass destruction.” Responsible government regulation of derivatives would have mandated full disclosure of their true asset value, and that might have averted the historic economic emergency now threatening the nation. For a quick review of U.S. government culpability in this emergency, watch the PBS Frontline report called “The Warning,”

In that report, you’ll hear this exchange between a Congressional hearing panelist and former Chairwoman of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, Brooksley Born:

Q: What are you trying to protect?

Born: We’re trying to protect the money of the American public.

The Clinton Administration chose not to accept that mission. Neither did the Bush Administration. Nor has Barack Obama’s Administration. When President Obama, the eloquent purveyor of hope, and the U.S. Congress got around to passing last year’s “financial reform” legislation, they accepted assistance from 54 financial industry lobbying firms that spent $300 million. That trifling investment bought Wall Street the ability to keep gambling with the money of  the American people—and the fate of the global economy. (See John Cassidy’s “Annals of Economics: The Volker Rule,” in the 7/26/10 issue of The New Yorker.)

Public/Private Crime

From accounts like these, government officials and various private interests emerge as little more than glib public/private mobsters. Untouchable by virtue of the legal immunity they gain from their control of government, they’re able to enjoy their champagne while blowing raspberries at the rest of the world. In this scenario, the citizens of the world become to the public/private mobsters what the Jews of Europe were to the Nazis—compliant souls to be herded into ghettos for scheduled liquidation. The liquidation in this case, of course, is not of actual bodies based on criminal insanity of the political kind. Instead, it is liquidation of personal wealth—and civilization’s hope—resulting from criminal insanity of the economic kind. Thus have the nations of the world become ghettos for the use of organized financial crime.

Mr. Adams’s email connects to this bigger picture, because the settled evidence clearly shows that Spokane’s River Park Square scandal was the work of public/private mobsters. River Park Square is hometown civic theater to Wall Street’s Broadway extravaganza.

Supporters of RPS euphemistically called it a public/private partnership. Details of the project that surfaced in federal municipal securities fraud litigation, an IRS investigation, and extensive national prize-winning investigative reporting by my colleagues and me (see show that RPS was just carefully packaged public/private crime.

Ugly facts clearly show that River Park Square developer Betsy Cowles set out to commit crime, and that her newspaper publisher brother, Stacey Cowles, did, too. Mr. Cowles’s crime was to provide the use of the family’s newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, to package his little sister’s real estate crime for public consumption.

This whole sordid history is tediously documented elsewhere on this blog and various links cited by it. Consider the following:

For evidence that Betsy Cowles knowingly set out to break the law, see the story “Missing Man,”  Open Ms. Cowles’s infamous 3/9/95 “divide and conquer” memo. That memo proves that Ms. Cowles, a lawyer, intended to violate federal securities law by hiding from investors her plan to launder a $23 million federal loan into the Nordstrom Co. by giving Nordstrom a free new store in Spokane. To accomplish this crime, she intended to “divide and conquer” Spokane’s city government, a time-honored tactic of despots. See “Inside Job,”, for proof that the Cowleses set out to secretly access public funds in a way that violated federal guidelines, and that Spokane public officials helped them do it. As companion reading, see the story “Fraudville, USA,” Read the RPS bondholders’ 91-point Omnibus Statement of Facts. It documents the securities fraud engineered by Ms. Cowles with active complicity of a host of Spokane officials. The city admitted to its role in this crime by purchasing the bondholders’ complaint and promising to recover the $26 million it paid Ms. Cowles for the RPS garage. But then the city pulled yet another bait and switch on its citizens. It let Ms. Cowles keep her stolen money, and, with the help of the IRS, saddled Spokane’s citizens with the cost of the Cowles robbery. See “A New RPS Fraud?”,

For evidence that Spokesman-Review publisher Stacey Cowles used the family’s paper to cover up the RPS crime, begin with “All in the Family,” See also, “Breaking the News,” There you’ll find evidence that Mr. Cowles turned his paper into a propaganda machine for his family’s highly organized criminal enterprise of illegally leveraging a minimum of $100 million in public funds to refurbish the Cowles family’s downtown shopping mall—River Park Square. You’ll also see evidence that when Mr. Cowles allowed his editor, Chris Peck, to twice attack former Mayor John Talbott as a “civic terrorist” for trying to expose the $23 million federal loan fraud, both Mr. Cowles and Mr. Peck were in possession of evidence showing that they knew they were falsely accusing him. That is, they were falsely accusing a mayor who was trying to expose the truth and serve those who elected him. This is the blackest of journalism sins. It’s known as “actual malice libel.” That refers to the intentional publication of a lie. Mr. Cowles’s purpose in publishing these lies was obviously to help the Cowles family with its massive public robbery. Mr. Peck’s purpose was apparently to keep his job as a handsomely paid Cowles bagman. To do that, he was willing to also become a hit man, assassinating in front of the community the character of mayor who deserved praise for his exemplary courage. Because the evidence shows that RPS represents continuing organized crime, and because there is no statute of limitations for such crime, I happen to believe that Mayor Talbott could at any time bring a civil RICO actual malice libel case against both Mr. Cowles and Mr. Peck. RICO provides for the recovery of treble damages, because its purpose is to destroy organized crime. The former mayor was the leader duly elected by the people of Spokane to protect them from the Cowles family’s $100 million RPS fraud. The evidence of fraud is settled. The evidence of actual malice libel is irrefutable. The evidence that Betsy and Stacey Cowles mounted a secret political campaign to defeat Talbott is also irrefutable. (See, “How a publishing heiress went after an uncooperative mayor: .)  The actual losses to the municipality of Spokane resulting from the Cowles family’s criminal character assassination of Mayor Talbott and clandestine political attack on him would require forensic accounting. But that would be pretty easy.

For further evidence of my allegations that RPS was public/private crime, you might wish to review: “Open Letter to an Ethicist” and “American Serbia,” below. See also,  which is an article about a national first-place journalism award for a 10-part reporting package titled “How The Spokesman-Review Subverted Democracy in Spokane, Washington.” See also“The Casino Was Rigged,” which describes the evidence of (un-prosecuted) crime found by the IRS:

Where’s the Anarchy?

So far, government watchdogs, bought and paid for by the private interests that control their bosses, carefully trained by their bosses not to bark when such crimes are committed, have obediently not barked. The watchdogs’ complicity just adds to a history that, as Mr. Adams’s email shows, can only get uglier so long as the perpetrators are not brought to justice.

The RPS crime is the reason that the specific number Mr. Adams is questioning—$45  million—raises the specter of the mayor’s anarchy.

The new layer of debt Mr. Cooley wants to lay on the public matches almost precisely the $44.8 million layer of debt that he and other public officials charged their citizens to pay off the RPS fraud that they had perpetrated on them.

“To me, what Cooley is trying to do has the appearance of refinancing the RPS fraud,” says Mr. Adams. “This should be discussed at least until 2030, which is when the RPS bond fraud will finally be paid off.”

Mary Verner, as she is well aware, plays a central role in this “scheme.” Scheme is what the IRS called it. In this scheme, then-Councilwoman Verner helped hold open the bag into which she and her fellow public servants illegally shoveled the swag of tens of millions of public dollars. And then they submissively handed the bag over to Betsy Cowles.

“A New RPS Fraud?” shows how upset Councilwoman Verner, who is also a lawyer, claimed to be about her role in this theft. But she did nothing about it. She joined the great pack of barkless watchdogs.

It’s the email Councilwoman Verner wrote to former Sheriff Tony Bamonte, when she was running for mayor, in which she convicts herself of anarchy. Anarchy, of course, is the dog-eat-dog chaos that results from an absence of government.

Sheriff Bamonte has been a prominent enough Democrat for decades that every electoral season candidates, Democrat and Republican alike, make a pilgrimage to his home, seeking his endorsement. Mary Verner did that when she ran for mayor in 2007.

Sheriff Bamonte said he would support her conditioned on her promise to prosecute the RPS crime, particularly the death of Jo Ellen Savage in the RPS garage. Bamonte had filed criminal complaints charging that Savage’s death was first-degree manslaughter resulting from Cowles neglect. (See “Deathtrap,” and “America’s Most Dangerous Cop,” and “American Serbia,” below.) Verner made that promise, according to Bamonte and others present at a meeting in the former sheriff’s home.

Afterward, Bamonte got worried, because Verner said nothing about RPS during her campaign. He called her on it and she responded with an email that deserves a prominent place in the RPS Document Hall of Shame. “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.” [See “Powers that Be” link in “American Serbia,” below.]  

I’ve never been able to understand what possessed Verner to make such an admission to the former sheriff credited with solving the oldest open murder case in U.S. history. Did she really think that Tony Bamonte didn’t know the loneliness of taking on “powers that be?” But there you have it in the mayor’s own words—frank acknowledgment of the existence of public corruption in Spokane more powerful than the city’s government. Frank acknowledgment, too, that she lacked the “morality, courage, and strength of character” to confront it, even as she campaigned for a job that required her to do so. It’s hard to think of a better example of the most dangerous kind of anarchy there is—criminal government. Violent terrorists and Molotov cocktail-hurling street protesters are feeble by comparison.

Mayor Verner has declined to talk with me about her “powers that be” email.  She also declines to discuss an order she purportedly received from Betsy Cowles shortly after her election.

Sheriff Bamonte says that Shannon Sullivan, a close friend of Mayor Verner’s, contacted him last year with a disturbing account. Ms. Sullivan, the woman who led the successful drive to recall former Mayor Jim West over a sex abuse scandal, told Bamonte that she was in Verner’s office when Cowles called her and ordered her to take a trip with her. Bamonte told me at the time that Sullivan said the trip involved a flight on Cowles’s private jet.

I found Sullivan’s allegation interesting, because of the IRS findings that the Cowles family controls Spokane’s government. (See “The Casino Was Rigged,” linked above.)

When I asked Ms. Sullivan about the purported Verner/Cowles plane ride, she wrote back denying she had told Bamonte about it. Suzanne Bamonte, the former sheriff’s wife, says she was present when Ms. Sullivan related this account. I provided Ms. Sullivan a memo written by Mrs. Bamonte summarizing her recollection of Sullivan’s story. I requested Ms. Sullivan’s comment on Mrs. Bamonte’s memo. Ms. Sullivan did not respond. So far, Mayor Verner and Ms. Cowles have also not responded to my requests for comment on the alleged plane ride. If they do, I will post their comments here. Meanwhile, I invite Mayor Verner, Ms. Sullivan, and Ms. Cowles to post their comments about this matter here.

Dick Adams Email

Sullivan Denial

Suzanne Bamonte Statement


Filed under Public Corruption

Testament: Manifesto for Personal Action

With a long enough lever, said Archimedes, one could move the world. I think something like that lever exists and is in constant use between our ears. We just don’t pay enough attention to how we use it. But we all have memories of seeing the lever used. Here’s one of mine.

Burning Man

In 1967-68 I was a door gunner and then a crew chief on a helicopter gunship in Vietnam.

The gunner fired his M-60 machine gun from the right side of the ship. At night, after our long days were over, he was responsible for cleaning the ship’s weapons and repairing any damage.

The crew chief fired his M-60 from the left side of the ship. At night, he was responsible for readying the ship for the next day.

Wake-up was four in the morning. Lift-off was dawnish. We came home as darkness fell.

Sunset, Mekong Delta

If we got to bed by 10:00 we were lucky. Many times it was midnight. During the Tet Offensive I flew 48 hours straight without sleep. In the end I couldn’t keep my eyes open except when we were taking fire. When I stood down I couldn’t sleep because of all the adrenaline in my system. That’s what I know about bad drug trips.

My old Bien Hoa neighborhood after Tet

Our M-60s fired 550 rounds per minute and had an effective air-to-surface range of 2,200 meters. We sought to use them at distances much more up close and personal than that, however. On the ground M-60s were supposed to be fired in bursts of six to keep the barrels from overheating and producing jams. We considered our guns air-cooled weapons and used them like fire hoses.

We fired our 2.75 inch rockets, with their 10-pound warheads and 30-meter killing radius, from an average distance of a thousand feet. That was close enough that we sometimes broke our own chin bubbles with their explosions as we pulled out of our dives.

Gunner Shook

We fired our mini-guns—4,200 .30 caliber rounds per minute—when we were too close to use the rockets.

Crew chief Lucky Lakin, KIA January 1968.

I had the honor of flying with the highest performing, best aligned organization I have ever known, or even heard of: the Mustangs, our gun platoon.


Mustang pilot Ed Strazzini

Mustang pilot Roosevelt Webb

I was a very serious gunner—a helicopter gunship in Vietnam was no place for anyone who wasn’t serious.

Gunner Shook

But the Mustangs, when I flew with them, kept running out of crew chiefs. “High attrition,” the Army called it. I was serious enough, my bosses apparently thought, to be entrusted with an entire gunship. So they made me a crew chief.

I told them I was no motorhead, barely knew how to change a sparkplug back in the world.

“Fine,” they said. “You won’t be changing sparkplugs.”

Sandy Noyes, a wizened old man just turned 20, my own previous crew chief, taught me how to take care of a Bell UH-1C gunship.

Crew chief Noyes, left, and Mustang pilots Dave Holloway and the late Scott Alwin.

The Mustangs assigned me 667. She was more like a living creature to me than machine, part magic carpet, part dragon. I appreciated both qualities. You had to be there.

Every day, and many nights, 667 took us to war. Thanks to a flock of maintenance wizards, she always brought us home.

Crew chief Shook

Maintenance wizards

Even after they made me a crew chief, however, I cleaned my own M-60 every night.

Gas cylinder plug from my last M-60.

I loved the men I served with. I loved the infantrymen on the ground we tried to keep alive, although you could have tortured me at the time and I wouldn’t have admitted that. Testosterone toxicosis, you know. But it was love, all right. Each passing year makes that more and more clear.

I’ll put it this way: one of the most obscene things I’ve ever seen is the body of an American soldier wrapped in his poncho for transport off a battlefield. I have no idea how many of the names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall I saw leave the rice paddies and jungles of Vietnam that way, but too many.


I did not love the Vietnam War. It broke my heart. It left me with a profound confusion about where “home” really was. Six months into my 12-month tour, I did not regard our business in Vietnam as a fit enterprise for the America I had been raised to love by a father who served as a Marine in the Pacific and a mother who awaited his return. From then on, I was no longer working for “America.” I was working for my buddies. Period.

The white smoke marks a target. The target is a farm village. Vietcong have been shooting at Americans from the village. The village is about to disappear in an air strike by Phantom jets.

A village dies.

Anyone who has been in a war will tell you that it feels like being a grain of sand in a sandstorm.

“Support our troops, support America?” Chalk and cheese, as far as I’m concerned. Any politician who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you a share in the Brooklyn Bridge. I respectfully submit that our troops are best supported by not throwing their lives away, not by swallowing government propaganda about throwing their lives away.

The helicopters that inserted the troops into battle were called slicks. (Their sides were slick—no heavy metal weaponry protruding.)


One day a single slick I was covering was inserting a load of grunts. As the aircraft flared to land, a command-detonated mine exploded right beneath it. The slick flipped upside down, stuffing its rotors in the mud, making its engine explode in a pulse of air that flattened the green rice in a circle all around it. Then guys scrambled out in furious low-crawls, leaving trails in the mud. I’m looking down from maybe 15o feet. Safety off. Waiting for the rest of the ambush to continue. If it had, we would have been on it like a match on gas fumes.

The slick started to burn. No flames, but heat waves were dancing over it. It was like watching a helicopter sink in clear water. It took a while to re-establish radio communication with the ground troops. Pretty soon the ground commander told us that everyone had gotten out. We called that “un-assing the aircraft.”

But then the voice in our headsets said, “No no wait a minute shit the gunner’s still in there he looks OK he’s just trapped we can see him struggling shit!”

Tongues of flame began licking the dead helicopter. The air-shimmer rapidly increased. In ones and twos and threes, grunts, who were hunkered behind the nearby dike line for cover, sprinted toward the slick to save the gunner. It took tremendous courage to do that, because they made themselves easy targets. But as they approached the crash, their hands would come up to shield their faces from the heat, and then they would turn back.

Finally, a lone figure sprinted from the dike. When he hit the wall of heat he plunged through and kept going. From above it was like watching a halfback run a draw play. The rescuer dove into the crashed slick, which was now shooting serious flames.

Nothing. Now we were watching two men burn alive, waiting for the inevitable fireball.

And then, there they were, one man dragging another out of hell. Next morning, someone pointed the rescuer out to me in the mess hall. I didn’t know him. He wasn’t a member of our aviation unit. I think he must have been one of the Crickets stationed with us. These were long-range recon guys who went out in small patrols to scout and set up the landing and pick-up zones.

Something made me approach him. He was a handsome, powerfully built black kid. Gray smudges dappled his face where the heat had burned him. His eyebrows were singed. His hair was singed where the heat got under his helmet.

“Why’d you do it?” I asked. Even to me the question sounded stupid.

He just shrugged his shoulders. A black kid, drafted probably, saving a probably drafted white kid, just because. That was Vietnam.

But it wasn’t “just because.” I understood that instantly, and it was a life-giving understanding, even if I wasn’t fully conscious of what I understood. Now I think I get it. That rescuer was prizing away at the world with his built-in Archimedes lever.

And I don’t think he did it “just because,” not if “just because” suggests there is no implicate order in the universe, governing our lives by invisible forces. Not if “just because” suggests that symbiogenesis isn’t our lot, connecting all of us to each other all the time, connecting everything that is, ever was and ever will be.

What that rescuer taught me was that all we can ever do in life is act. Act we do. The only real question is how we act. How we act connects us to the flow of all that is, was, and ever will be. And only we can decide on that connection.

Elegant, no?

How we decide to act, then—this is what I believe—is how we make our life.

So What?

I share this belief, because it informs everything you see in this blog and the half-million or so words of reporting and documentation linked to it. I’m still a Mustang, you see. I decided long ago to never stop being one.

Judging from comments people make to me, I know the reporting suggests to some that American governance has become a wasteland. The reporting documents that Spokane, my fair city, second largest city in Washington State, is controlled by organized crime. It documents that Democrats and Republicans are equally complicit in this sordid state of affairs, and that every level of government in the land, now including the Dreamworks of the Obama White House, is implicated.

But I don’t think the evidence means that American government has become a wasteland. All any government can ever be is reflective. If we don’t like the reflection we see, I think we have to study the face in the mirror to see what we don’t like. And then we act.

It’s not that we should act. Or that we must act. It’s that we do act. And that action creates a reflection. That’s what I believe.

It wasn’t American government that pulled that kid from the burning helicopter before my eyes. And the turpitude, avarice and deep moral confusion that sent the rescuer to Vietnam had nothing to do with the decision he made, the action he took, the lingering reflection he left in my mind, and now in your mind, too.

That’s the point I’m trying to make. And the reason I’m trying to make it is because people keep asking me what, in the face of the daunting evidence we all face about the mess the world is in—including evidence contained in my reporting—can the average person do about it?

The question concerns me, because the last thing I want to do with my reporting is contribute to what psychologists tell us is the epidemic of “learned helpless” now plaguing us.  But I also love the question, because I love the answer. The answer, the rescuer taught me, is this: do what you can. That’s all we can ever do. And it is the joyful reality of life that that’s enough. #

All photos copyright Larry Shook.


Filed under Public Corruption, Vietnam Veterans

America’s Most Patient Cop

Former Sheriff Tony Bamonte

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:

  1. 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, 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.)
  2. 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

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:

  1. Study the evidence.
  2. Review applicable statutes.
  3. 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 was in that spirit that Bamonte filed his complaint with Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick (see America’s Most Dangerous Cop, below, and Deathtrap at

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.


Filed under Public Corruption

Judging Judges: Open Letter to an Ethicist*

Judge Laurel Siddoway

Dear Donna McKereghan: This is the open public response I promised you regarding the Siddoway/Dunham race for a seat on the Division III, District I Washington Court of Appeals.

First a caveat: this is ridiculously long. My charges are serious; I have erred on the side of documentation and repetition.

Second, let me establish a context for the benefit of those just now joining a discussion that you and I began in email. As you know, I believe that Judge Laurel Siddoway epitomizes the public corruption and organized crime that produced the River Park Square scandal and killed Jo Ellen Savage in the RPS parking garage. I said as much in a July 29, 2010, email to retired economic crimes detective Ron Wright. I was responding to an email Det. Wright sent me that day concerning the endorsement of Judge Siddoway’s reelection bid by The Spokesman-Review. I’m going to elaborate in what follows on my judgment of Judge Siddoway and her opponent, Judge Harvey Dunham. I judge them both because they ask me to: they’re candidates for public office.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:  I wish the Siddoway/Dunham race were a simple choice between established competent corruption, which is how I see Judge Siddoway, and possibly incompetent decency. Unfortunately, based on the conduct of people associated with Judge Dunham’s campaign, I worry about his ethics.

Here We Go

Okay, here’s my email to Det. Wright.

(Those who have already read these emails might want to just skip down to the interior headline Judicial Parable.)

“Det. Wright: Laurel Siddoway was the public’s lawyer when she served Mayor John Powers as RPS special counsel. In that capacity, she and Mayor Powers dropped the civil conspiracy charges brought against the RPS developer and various public officials by Mayor John Talbott and his RPS special counsel, O. Yale Lewis. Neither Ms. Siddoway nor Mayor Powers ever explained why they dropped those charges. As the RPS municipal securities fraud litigation progressed, discovery produced overwhelming evidence that there was indeed a conspiracy between the developer and public officials to commit securities fraud; to, as Mr. Lewis alleged, ‘improperly divert public money for private purpose.’ The RPS plaintiffs documented this evidence in their 91-point Omnibus Statement of Facts.”  (See ‘Fraudville, USA’ at

“Based on Ms. Siddoway’s recommendation, the City of Spokane settled with the plaintiffs by purchasing their case. That case proved the existence of the fraudulent conspiracy that Ms. Siddoway said didn’t exist. The purchase of that case cost Spokane’s citizens $44.8 million. Ms. Siddoway, in other words, contradicted herself as precisely as possible. The result of her contradiction suggests that Ms. Siddoway willingly and knowingly became a central agent in perfecting the RPS fraud against the public. (See ‘A New RPS Fraud?’ at

“The facts, then, show that Ms. Siddoway did not represent the public when she was paid by the public to be the public’s lawyer. She represented the perpetrators of the RPS fraud. The key perpetrator of that fraud, of course, was the RPS developer, Betsy Cowles. It isn’t surprising that Ms. Cowles’s newspaper would endorse Ms. Siddoway as an appellate court judge. This preserves the Cowles family’s influence over a judiciary the corruption and/or incompetence of which enabled the RPS fraud. Remember that Spokane Superior Court Judges Kathleen O’Connor and Sam Cozza refused to let Spokane’s citizens vote on the RPS ‘public/private partnership.’ Remember that the evidence suggested from the beginning that this project was fraudulent, which is why Spokane’s citizens wanted to vote on it. Remember that Ms. Siddoway ultimately agreed that the project was fraudulent by recommending the city purchase the evidence proving that it was. Remember the city agreed with Ms. Siddoway by taking her advice.

“Of course Ms. Siddoway will be the perfect appellate court judge to protect the Cowles family’s provably criminal conduct. But there is no reason to believe that Judge Siddoway will interpret the law in a way to protect the public from this continuing criminal enterprise. When Spokane Mayor Mary Verner refers to Spokane’s ‘powers that be,’ this is the organized criminal enterprise she appears to be referring to. Please see ‘America’s Most Dangerous Cop’ at [this website].

“Anyone running against Ms. Siddoway for this office who is not willing or able to review and explain this evidence to the electorate is probably no more willing or able to represent the electorate, or uphold the law, than could be expected of Judge Siddoway. Obviously, this statement also applies to every other elected official and candidate for public office in Spokane. You can’t serve two masters. In Spokane you can serve the organized criminal enterprise of the Cowles family or you can serve the public upon which that enterprise preys…”

Tempest in a Teapot

As you know, Det. Wright then sent that email to Michael McMillin. Mr. McMillin is campaign manager for Judge Harvey Dunham, Judge Siddoway’s opponent.

“Det. Wright,” wrote Mr. McMillin, “I appreciate this information, unfortunately there is nothing much we can do with it.  If this information were to be released by someone outside of the campaign, there is nothing we can do to stop that.  Although, under the Judicial Canons, both Harvey and myself cannot partake in any mudslinging. Judicial candidates and their campaigns must hold the highest ethical standards when running for office.  It is the job of the people and supporters to get the word out.  Thanks again, we appreciate both the information and the support.  It is vital that we get a moral and ethical man into office and replace the Gregoire appointee/ACLU Board of Directors member.”

That email ended with boilerplate saying that it “may contain legally privileged and/or confidential information” and not to send it around without Mr. McMillin’s permission, and that if you received it by mistake to permanently delete it.

Det. Wright ignored the boilerplate. He sent Mr. McMillin’s email to me. I responded:

“Det. Wright: Mr. McMillin’s response to evidence of Laurel Siddoway’s unethical and possibly illegal conduct strikes me as evasive and cowardly. If Judicial Canons prohibit discussion of evidence of unethical and perhaps illegal conduct by candidates for judicial office, that, in itself, makes the canons a farce, it seems to me. And that, in turn, condemns the judiciary to sophistry and the mockery of justice. These are the very qualities, the evidence proves, that are the hallmarks of the RPS project and Laurel Siddoway’s role in it. ‘It is vital that we get a moral and ethical man into office and replace the Gregoire appointee/ACLU Board of Directors member,’ Mr. McMillin concludes, after admonishing you that Judge Dunham’s campaign is barred by canon from engaging in mudslinging. Sigh. How is one to respect the integrity of a candidacy like that? As you know, my view is that the American experiment in democracy now faces a historical threat from its own rampant corruption and moral failure. This moral failure, in my view, is more dangerous to this nation than terrorists can ever be. I don’t think America’s biggest problem is the impurity of any political ideology, as Mr. McMillin and his candidate appear to believe. I think its biggest problem is plain old fashioned immorality. I’ll take an honest conservative over a corrupt liberal, and vice versa, any day.”

I ended that email with the note that I was copying it widely, because I considered its subject—a judicial race—a matter of public interest. I said folks were free to distribute my comments as they chose. Folks did. My email put a fork in a few fillings, beginning with Mr. McMillin.

Mr. McMillin fired back at me:

“Mr. Shook, I am glad that you can cc a whole host of people and disregard the message at the bottom of my email.  I considered my email to Det. Wright a private email, but appreciate your complete disregard for my wish.  I find it odd, that someone with your will to gain credibility would so willingly attack another person before having a discussion with them about intent first.  I sir, have read your articles and found interest, yet wonder at the sheer accuracy of them when responding to a private email in such a rash and unprofessional way.  I fear that we have lost the function of debate when a person is willing to run to the public to attempt to bolster their own ratings every chance they get.  I fear we should have never responded, as I am sure your attempt is to publicize your website… sigh.

“If you would ever like to sit down and meet with me about how cowardly I truly am, feel free to contact me.  Thank you for both your ignorance, and proof of the reason why I told Dave Stevens that we should avoid contact.  And thank you sir, as I can see you are obviously the mudslinger here and I will not be talking with you any further.  Oh, and one last thank you for your disregard for the ethical conduct of judicial candidates.

“Judicial Canon (7)(B)

(B) Campaign Conduct.

(1) Candidates, including an incumbent judge, for a judicial office;

(a) should maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office, and should encourage members of their families to adhere to the same standards of political conduct that apply to them;

(b) should prohibit public officials or employees subject to their direction or control from doing for them what they are prohibited from doing under this canon; and except to the extent authorized under Canon 7(B)(2) or (B)(3), they should not allow any other person to do for them what they are prohibited from doing under this canon;

(c) should not

(i) make pledges or promises of conduct in office other than the faithful and impartial performance of the duties of the office;

(ii) make statements that commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the court; or

(iii) knowingly misrepresent the identity, qualifications, present position or other fact concerning the candidate or an opponent.

“We will not be partaking in this discussion or your misrepresentation of any candidate in this race any further.  Thank you.”

With that, the teapot containing this little tempest began to merrily boil. I show some 39 emails in this string. Including other emails in related  strings, it looks to me as though I may have received around 100 responses. Yours was one of them.

The Ethicist Objects

In an effort to confine the bloat of this already bloated blog, I’m not going to include your entire email. I link it here for those who want to read all of it. And I commend it to all. As I told you by return email, I deeply appreciated your reply. I found it generous, thoughtful, reasonable, and gutsy.

You criticized my comments to Det. Wright thus:

“So, unless or until an attorney or judge is found in violation of the codes or of illegal conduct, the opponent’s campaign IS NOT ALLOWED to comment on the matter and for good reasons, reasons that the public has called for, demanded and which were put into place at the behest of the public and with overwhelming public support.  And now someone’s response is called evasive and cowardly for obeying those codes and laws?  Someone who has cried out so loud and clear for us all that the laws have not and are not being upheld?  You cannot reasonably call for adherence to law and, in the next breath, criticize those who obey it.  I am very disappointed by the contradiction.”

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Ethical canons, as you know, allow for a veritable devil’s brew of loose-cannon behavior. Jesus is pretty clear, for instance, about the importance of not leading children astray. (Matthew 18:6.)  And yet, as countless blood-curdling lawsuits now show, that admonition somehow escaped canonically bound pedophile Catholic priests who have been preying on their own lambs for decades. And even now the Catholic canonical jefe, Pope Benedict XVI, is casual enough about this tragedy to have been accorded a recent Time magazine cover line: “Why Being Pope Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry.”

I don’t dispute the need for ethical canons. I just don’t think they mean anything if there’s no consequence for violating them. There has been no meaningful consequence within the Catholic Church for the systematic sexual abuse of children. Similarly, so far there has been no meaningful consequence within the legal establishment for the systematic violation of law and ethics that lie at the heart of the RPS scandal.

“Now IF someone has been FOUND to have violated the ethics codes by the body which has jurisdication, that’s a different matter,” you write. The Catch 22 contained in this proviso is precisely the point regarding the crimes of River Park Square, including the death of Jo Ellen Savage in the RPS garage.

In this country what happens if the President of the United States, a U.S. Attorney General, the director of the FBI, etc. violate the law and, as the highest authorities in the land, choose not to enforce the law upon themselves? Is that the end of it? Of course not. And yet that is exactly what has happened with the RPS scandal. The evidence of criminal acts, keep in mind, comes from the IRS, a federal lawsuit, voluminous sworn testimony. The law, so far, simply has not been enforced.

Retired Spokane Police Detective Captain Robert Allen once contacted me about this after studying Camas’s reporting. He was concerned about the impact of the RPS losses on Spokane’s police budget. He told me he was appalled that, in the face of such evidence, no criminal investigation had been conducted.

That’s how blatant the evidence of crime and no punishment is in the RPS affair. Capt. Allen is also a retired attorney, a 30-year member of the Washington Bar.

The conduct of Laurel Siddoway, in my opinion, makes her the perfect symbol of this chilling legal, moral and ethical failure. Supporters of her opponent, Judge Dunham, appear to agree. You have provided me with a flyer they have circulated titled “Stop Insidious Siddoway.” In it they cite my reporting as evidence of her insidiousness. In other words, the evidence contained in my reporting is the reason they believe Judge Dunham is more fit for office than Judge Siddoway. And yet they attack Judge Siddoway not for her conduct, but for her membership in the American Civil Liberties Union?

That is what I objected to as cowardly and evasive. Those words may be too harsh. I don’t get to have the last word on that. You and others do, and I respect your conclusions.

I’m no lawyer, and I could be missing something, but I see no support for Mr. McMillin’s tactics in the Judicial Canon excerpt he cites. I also don’t see a prohibition of discussing Judge Siddoway’s record, as the “Insidious Siddoway” flyer urges other people to do. Far from seizing the moral high ground on this subject, Mr. McMillin, in my view, has attempted to dig a foxhole for himself and his candidate in muddy ground.

The factual record of River Park Square—it was produced by the best legal work that money can buy—suggests to me that it was a crime committed by lawyers with the active complicity of judges all the way up to the state supreme court. Because of that, I’m no more willing to confine the discussion of judicial morality to judges than I think Catholics should be to let their priests have the last word, say, in interpreting Matthew 18:6.

“Pretty is as pretty does,” my mother used to say. Being a judge or a priest doesn’t make you right or excuse you from obeying the law.

As to Mr. McMillin’s charge that my distribution of his email violated his right to confidentiality, I disagree. You can’t burden me with an unethical secret I didn’t ask you to share and expect me to keep your secret. So I don’t concede that I owed Mr. McMillin the duty of confidentiality he claims. I don’t think Det. Wright did either. I’m an investigative reporter, for Pete’s sake. Wright’s a veteran criminal investigator.

Politics is often dirty. It’s full of bribes, lies, kickbacks, slush funds, money laundries, and assaults of every kind on the public interest. Any government of human beings is inherently vulnerable to corruption. That’s why Thomas Jefferson said he would prefer newspapers without government to government without newspapers. Criminal government—it’s called tyranny—is the most serious crime there is.

So what if Mr. McMillin had shared a dirty political strategy in his email? Or what if it had merely engaged in some kind of slur against Judge Siddoway? I actually think he came close by impugning her morality and ethics based on her support of the ACLU. I thought of Sen. Joseph McCarthy calling Gen. George Marshall a Communist when I read the ACLU cheap shot. Mr. McMillin’s wording might also be interpreted as impugning the gender of both Judge Siddoway and the governor who appointed her.

As Dr. Phil might ask Mr. McMillin, What were you thinking!?

Still, that critique of Mr. McMillin’s email doesn’t really get at the heart of my reaction. It makes it sound more academic than it really is.

Another of Judge Dunham’s supporters recently criticized The Spokesman-Review’s coverage of the Siddoway campaign because, “… you didn’t mention that Ms. Siddoway was a board member of the ACLU and endorsed by the Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender Bar Association of Washington as highly qualified.”

The simple truth is that kind of talk hurts me. I have many friends who are gay and lesbian. I have friends whose children are gay and lesbian. My children aren’t gay or lesbian, but I would love them just as much if they were. My children do have gay and lesbian friends, and their friends are my friends. Are Judge Dunham’s supporters sending code to the electorate endorsing judicial prejudice against gay people?

To come to grips with how hurtful this kind of thing is, Judge Dunham and his supporters might want to look at this poignant YouTube objection to perceived gay bashing by Target Stores: I think this kind of thing is bad ethics, bad manners, bad business, bad politics—just plain wrong.

Another thing. I served in Vietnam with African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Christian Americans, Atheist Americans, Jewish Americans, etc. Uncle Sam drafted us all. Lots of people, I know, don’t like the ACLU because of its famously nitpicky defense of the civil liberties of minorities. But an American judge is required by law to enforce the rights of all people.

If you want to know how “bad” the ACLU can be, check out the Tim Disney movie, American Violet. It’s based on the true story of Regina Kelly.

What do I care if Laurel Siddoway is a member of the Gay and Lesbian Composers of Atonal Jazz for Poetry Slams and the Legalization of Marijuana? It’s her record that concerns me. Because of her record, I will not vote for her. In offering me an alternative, I wish Judge Dunham would make it clear that he’s not winking me the message that he intends to sneak ugly prejudices onto the bench.

You say Spokesman-Review publisher Stacey Cowles is “operating under the spotlight of a reputation he didn’t earn but that, because of his name, has become his legacy.” That’s a polite suggestion. I admire the kindness of your instinct in making it. Unfortunately, it’s inconsistent with the evidence. Please see “American Serbia” and track the documentation.

If Mr. Cowles’s reputation is that of a newspaper publisher who uses his paper, and his editorial staff, to commit crimes—crimes that end up killing innocents and destroying the careers of the honest—believe me he deserves it.

Your statement that you know of no Spokesman-Review reporters who have “criticized the paper for it being beholden to the Cowles family” also doesn’t square with my reporting. Please see “All In the Family” on the Camas site. Pay particular attention to the comments of former Cowles city hall reporter Oliver Staley. See also reference to the Harvard economics thesis about the noxious Cowles media influence in Spokane in the story, “A Newspaper Monopoly Town,”

Taking a paycheck from an organization the proven conduct of which satisfies the legal definition of organized crime and then keeping your mouth shut about the evidence doesn’t satisfy any code of ethics I know of.

Unless, of course, the code of ethics was written by Councilman Al French. You note that Mr. French was a key author of the Spokane City Council’s current code of ethics. Oh, oh.

Councilman French rubber-stamped the corrupt settlement of the RPS securities fraud case. (See below.) He said he felt like, “I have a gun to my head.”

This was a bit of play-acting. The gun was supposed to be Betsy Cowles’s threat of bankrupting her River Park Square mall if the city tried to make her return the public money that public officials helped her steal to “save downtown.” In this little drama, Ms. Cowles played the role of a bank robber. The city, acting on the legal advice of Ms. Siddoway and various co-conspirators in the RPS fraud, played the role of the bank’s owners.

Bank Robber: I will not return all the money I stole from you. I’ll give you back just a little bit. If you keep arguing about this I’m going to declare bankruptcy and you’ll get nothing.

Bank Owners: Well, okay. But this is SO unfair!

We know this is an accurate scenario, because when Betsy Cowles tried the same dodge in federal bankruptcy court after former RPS manager Bob Robideaux sued her for contract violation, the court slapped Ms. Cowles’s real estate companies with bad-faith filing penalties. That cost the Cowles mob nearly $10 million. Ms. Cowles’s newspaper to this day refuses to report the full amount of what the gun-to-the-head-of-the-victim strategy cost her that time. (Owning a newspaper means never having to say you’re sorry in public.) One obvious reason Ms. Cowles’s attempted stick-up of Mr. Robideaux failed is that Mr. Robideaux had Bob Dunn as his attorney, not Laurel Siddoway. Smart move, Mr. Robideaux.

Anyway (here’s the tedious repetition), the evidence shows that the RPS deal was a symphony of lies from the beginning. Thanks to Laurel Siddoway, it ended in one of the dirtiest lies of all. And Mr. French helped Ms. Siddoway get away with it. And now you tell me that Mr. French gets the credit for drafting the city’s current code of ethics. Dear oh dear.

To paraphrase my mother: ethical is as ethical does.

Now consider that the mob’s newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, is endorsing Mr. French to replace Spokane County Commissioner Bonnie Mager. The bank robber endorsing gang members for public office? Dear oh dear oh dear. What are we coming to?

The evidence of Cowles family corruption contained at,, and on this Web site is so overwhelming that it’s reasonable, in my view, to suspect any candidate for any office who enjoys the political endorsement of Cowles media. Were I a political candidate intent on serving the public, the last thing I would want is the endorsement that the Cowles newspaper has hung on Judge Siddoway. Still, you have to love the poetic justice.

Judicial Parable

In the Biblical judicial parable, the answerer of a question condemns himself with his own words. For me, Judge Siddoway’s RPS record makes her like the character in a judicial parable whose mistake supplies the moral.

Here is a direct quote from the transcript of a hearing in the RPS securities fraud case before U.S. District Court Judge Edward F. Shea on February 23, 2005.

THE COURT: I seem to be missing something. How can a 26 million dollar garage in 1998 be worth 3.4 million dollars in 2004?

MS. SIDDOWAY: It was never worth 26 million dollars.

Bingo. It was never worth $26 million. Reason: the very securities fraud Ms. Siddoway was attempting to defend.

Read Item #14 on page six of Judge Siddoway’s Judicial Evaluation Questionnaire. It’s her description of her handling of the RPS litigation. It sounds as though she’s describing an act of God instead of a disaster created by affirmative fraudulent acts against the public committed by the corrupt officials she was trying to protect.

Read her answer to Question 38 on page 16. It’s her explanation of why Councilwoman Rodgers filed bar complaints against her. Judge Siddoway explains that Councilwoman Rodgers, “was unhappy with me because I would not pursue a conspiracy claim in the River Park Square litigation that I did not believe was supported by evidence.”

If Ms. Siddoway didn’t believe the evidence of conspiracy, how come she ultimately recommended purchasing the voluminous conspiracy evidence contained in the bondholders’ Omnibus Statement of facts? Remember what that cost Spokane’s citizens: $44.8 million.

Of course that evidence existed. It was always there. It’s just that Ms. Siddoway and the three corrupt mayors she served tried to sweep it under the rug. It wasn’t just evidence of conspiracy. It was evidence that satisfied the legal definition of organized crime. Evidence that supported bringing charges under RICO, the federal law created to destroy organized crime. All that evidence made the rug Ms. Siddoway was standing on resemble Himalayan foothills. As Ms. Siddoway and the public conspirators she was shielding were being dragged into the RPS trial you could hardly see their heads above the folds in that comical rug. That’s why they settled. (See, among other stories, “Fraudville, USA,” “The Mayor’s Confession,” and “A New RPS Fraud?” on the Camas site.)

Of course the evidence of the RPS fraud was there all along. That’s why, in the summer of 2004, the IRS issued its devastating findings about the sale of the RPS garage bonds. “It is clear from the facts of this case, the developer [read: Cowles Mob] had, and continues to have, a particular relationship with the City of Spokane… such that it was in a position to control or influence its activities,” wrote the IRS. (See “The Casino Was Rigged” on the Camas site.)

Evidence of that control is also evidence of the conspiracy and organized crime that Laurel Siddoway spent most of the first decade of the new millennium trying to cover up.

As several of the nation’s most prestigious financial institutions and the nation’s tax collector found, the evidence is simply overwhelming that the RPS fraud was the direct result of a conspiracy between the RPS developer and an incredible cast of public officials—mayors, city council members, city lawyers, the ostensibly public agency that was to manage the RPS garage “on behalf” of the public, the city’s own bond counsel… It’s quite a lineup. The Camas reporting cited by the “Insidious Siddoway” flyer offers abundant proof of that conspiracy.

Quick RPS synopsis.

When John Powers defeated John Talbott in the 2000 mayoral race, the first thing Powers did was fire RPS special counsel O. Yale Lewis and replace him with Siddoway, one of his top campaign contributors. By then, the fraudulently appraised and fraudulently financed RPS garage was headed for bankruptcy. That would spell fiscal disaster for Spokane. To protect Spokane’s citizens, Talbott and Lewis had filed papers with the court showing they intended to prove that the developer and public officials had conspired to commit the fraud that was leading to the bankruptcy.

The first thing Team Powers/Siddoway did was drop the Talbott/Lewis conspiracy charges. This was reported by Tim Connor in a March 8,2001, Camas story called “Powers Play.”

Reported Connor: “Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers says Siddoway told her the conspiracy charges were dropped for political reasons.

“‘If that’s what she heard,’ Siddoway said about Rodgers’s statement, ‘That’s not what I thought I said.’ But then Siddoway quickly added that she thought it was ‘very destructive of settlement negotiations’ and ‘of the political atmosphere generally to be making those kinds of allegations without much evidence that they’re fair.’”

But there was already plenty of evidence they were fair.

For one thing, there was the embarrassing front-page January 9, 1999, Wall Street Journal story showing that a critical memo from city attorneys Jim Sloane and Stan Schwartz warning of a dangerous aspect of RPS’s financing had been covered up by both the city and the RPS developer. (See, among other Camas stories, “All in the Family,”

For another thing, there was the hidden crisis of AMC in the summer of 1999. As Camas reported in “Under The Influence,” in the summer of 1999, AMC Theaters, the second anchor tenant in the RPS mall behind Nordstrom, notified the developer and public officials that its customers weren’t going to pay to park in the RPS garage. That was bad news, because nearly half the money needed to pay off the RPS garage bonds was to come from AMC. Under federal securities law, this development was a “material fact.” Bond purchasers had to be told of it. But developer Betsy Cowles wanted it kept a secret. She wanted the law broken. She asked public officials, including Spokane city council members and the city’s bond counsel, to keep her secret, and they obeyed. Cowles even asked the lawyer who was supposed to protect the bond purchasers to sign a confidentiality agreement. He did. It was about as naked an act of a conspiracy to defraud as there could be. (See

Former Spokane City Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers has long suspected Siddoway of having personal knowledge of the AMC crisis long before she became the city’s RPS special counsel. That knowledge, if Ms. Siddoway really had it, Ms. Rodgers believes gave Ms. Siddoway an ethical conflict of interest that should have prevented her from ever representing the citizens of Spokane in the RPS scandal.

As Camas quoted Councilwoman Rodgers in “The Case of the Invisible Client” (, Ms. Siddoway “‘had also represented AMC when AMC was thinking of backing out of the deal [in 1999], so I think she was also trying to protect the who’s who in the downtown group that backed this and supported it from day one,’ says Rodgers.”

Ms. Siddoway denied those charges. She admitted, however, that AMC had paid her to do something in the fateful summer of 1999. Citing attorney/client privilege, she just wouldn’t say what. If, as part of her AMC assignment, Ms. Siddoway actually did learn of the AMC crisis before she took over as RPS special counsel, it could arguably make her a co-conspirator in the conspiracy she long denied.

After spending years and many millions of public dollars denying the RPS conspiracy, Ms. Siddoway effectively threw in the towel and admitted the conspiracy after all. One more time: she did that by recommending the city purchase the bondholders’ securities fraud case that proved the conspiracy. The $44.8 million that case cost Spokane’s citizens on the barrelhead doesn’t begin to touch the full fiscal ravages of the RPS fraud.

Even with that admission, however, Ms. Siddoway wasn’t done aiding and abetting those who had defrauded the public. She withheld from the city council legal advice intended to enable Spokane’s citizens to recover appropriately from the RPS developer. (See “A New RPS Fraud?” at

Ms. Siddoway also spent years denying the city had violated the state’s public records act in assisting the RPS developer and public officials to defraud municipal bond purchasers and the citizens of Spokane. All that time she was sitting on evidence proving that she wasn’t telling the truth. In the end the city admitted its deceit. It settled the public records suit brought against it by Camas. The city apologized for lying. Laurel Siddoway never did.

“The city of Spokane acknowledges that it withheld as privileged in the River Park Square litigation documents that were not privileged,” read the apology that was part of the settlement. “This was a misuse of the attorney-client privilege and the Washington State public records act, and the city of Spokane deeply regrets it.”

But not deeply enough to pursue the public officials who systematically violated the law in order to help the RPS developer “improperly divert public money for private purpose.”

Proposed Resolution

Whereas the evidence that Laurel Siddoway successfully covered up when she was RPS special counsel is also evidence supporting prosecution of organized crime, and whereas there is no statute of limitations in the prosecution of organized crime, and whereas the current fiscal crisis of the City of Spokane can be directly tied to Siddoway’s tactics as RPS special counsel, be it therefore resolved that this is a big deal.

My Apology

I told you that I would reflect on the thoughtful email in which you criticized my message to Mr. McMillin. I told you I would publicly apologize if I concluded an apology is in order. I do. I apologize. But not for what I wrote. I apologize for its tone. It’s very unpleasant. The tone of this blog is probably worse. It’s just that the facts are so awful that I’m at a loss to find another tone. I truly am sorry.

“… there was a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord,” go the lyrics in the haunting Leonard Cohen ballad, Hallelujah. I love that song. My favorite rendition is the performance by the K.D. Lang at the 2005 Juno Awards in Winnipeg. There’s a desperate pleading in Ms. Lang’s voice that pierces my soul and makes me think of something a friend of mine says about God and water. “Thirst is the proof of water,” he says, “just as our yearning for God is proof there is one.”

I think the secret chord Cohen writes about is real. I think it has to do with honesty, but not mere honesty. Rather, I think the chord is heard only in honesty expressed in sweetness, honesty devoid of wrath. And I believe that the yearning for unity that many, but not all, call God is universal. Listen to Lang here and see if don’t hear both the yearning and the chord.

Anyway, I heard in your email strains of the chord. It was sincere and courageous and devoid of wrath. I don’t have that chord down yet. I’m going to have to keep working at it. Thank you for your example.

* Donna McKereghan is a member of the Washington State Legislative Ethics Board. Read her description of the board here.


Filed under Public Corruption

The Elephant in Spokane’s Living Room

PR Problem

CAUGHT A GLIMPSE of the elephant in  Spokane’s living room the other day. It came in the form of an email from a friend responding to “America’s Most Dangerous Cop.” That post is about the refusal of Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick to investigate the death of Jo Ellen Savage in the River Park Square parking garage.

“Dear Larry,” wrote my friend. “I have met Anne and spent time with her in professional settings and I ‘NO WAY’ believe this is the truth about her. Anne is a wonderful woman with wonderful ethics and deep good values.”

In no way does former Pend Oreille County Sheriff Tony Bamonte agree with that assessment of Kirkpatrick’s ethics and values. Bamonte contends that the circumstances surrounding Savage’s death represent “the best evidence of first-degree manslaughter I have ever seen.” He says Kirkpatrick’s refusal to investigate it is illegal. Based on several thousand pages of evidence he has presented to every relevant level of government and law enforcement between the Spokane River and Puget Sound, between the Spokane and Potomac Rivers, Sheriff Bamonte accuses Chief Kirkpatrick of covering up the organized criminal activity of Spokane’s powerful Cowles family, one of America’s last media dynasties. The Cowleses, of course, own the RPS garage, where a wall failed in 2006, catapulting Savage, screaming inside her car, five stories to her death before the eyes of horrified onlookers. (See “Death by Parking” at

“First-degree manslaughter is a form of murder,” says Bamonte. “That means Savage was murdered.”

Jo Ellen Savage, September 1, 1943 - April 8, 2006

Who murdered her? Specific members of the Cowles family, he charges, who allowed the hazardous condition that claimed Savage’s life to go unrepaired for at least 16 years before she died. A sworn affidavit by the garage’s former manager proves this, he says. (See “Deathtrap” at

Chief Kirkpatrick has now made herself an accessory to Savage’s death by protecting Cowles family members from being prosecuted for it, says Bamonte.

I understand my friend’s upset. Bamonte’s charges would be outrageous if not supported by the facts. But they are supported by the facts—ugly, messy, terrible facts—which is one of three reasons I think my friend is misguided.

My friend copied the note she sent me to Stacey Cowles, publisher of his family’s Spokesman-Review newspaper, Chief Kirkpatrick, Mayor Mary Verner, the Spokane City Council, and many others. That’s why I’m responding in this public fashion.

I admire my friend. I actually consider her to be “a wonderful woman with wonderful ethics and deep good values.” Why? Because of the things I’ve seen her do for others. I know her by her acts of compassion. The evidence supports my opinion of her.

Her compassion, I suspect, is the second reason for her misguided defense of Kirkpatrick. My friend obviously thinks I was unfair to the chief.

Again—I have to repeat it—I don’t think the evidence supports my friend’s opinion of Chief Kirkpatrick. That evidence is contained in “America’s Most Dangerous Cop.” Follow the links to the facts. They are threads that weave a tapestry telling of the sad end of Jo Savage’s life. I think you will see why I intended for that title to be as clear as it is.

Savage death scene

Evidence is all I have to go by. Journalists, like police officers and other public servants, are supposed to be disciplined by it. I’m attempting to follow the evidence. I don’t think Chief Kirkpatrick and my friend are. They have lots of company in fleeing the scene of the Savage crime. I name some of their company—public officials from Spokane to Olympia to the White House—in “America’s Most Dangerous Cop.” Because so many public officials have ignored the evidence of what killed Jo Ellen Savage, hers is one of the loneliest deaths I know of. Society marks graves of unknown soldiers more respectfully than hers.

The elephant in the living room—that’s what those who minister to the human psyche call a problem we don’t want to talk about. Problems like alcoholism, family abuse of all kinds, etc., are common elephants in the living room. Thinking of them can fill us with such despair that it makes it hard to breath. So we put them out of our minds.

“Denial” is what we commonly call this psychological trick. But if the word connotes weakness, cowardice, dishonesty, etc., it is both too simplistic and harsh, I think, to describe what’s really going on. At least it is according to Daniel Goleman.

In his brilliant book, Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception, Goleman points out that denial is Mother Nature’s way of protecting us from the “cognitive static” caused by anxiety.

“The essence of anxiety is the intrusion of distress into physical and mental channels that should be clear,” writes Goleman. “A nagging worry invades sleep, keeping one awake half the night. A persistent fear imposes itself into one’s thoughts, distracting from the business at hand.”

So nature equips us with this free peripheral that actually creates psychological blind spots that are every bit as real as the physical blind spots caused by our optic nerves. The psychological blind spots that make the menacing rogue elephants of life disappear are so powerful we don’t even know we have them. They’re unconscious. This is what Goleman writes so hauntingly about in Vital Lies.

This means that if you are a little child coming to consciousness in a harsh environment confronting you with a physical and/or emotional threat that you are powerless to manage, this ingenious trick we call denial can go a long way toward blotting it out.

Voila! No elephant. No cognitive static. No dripping cortisol—the stress hormone—to wear out your vital organs with stress-mediated diseases. In the china shop of the human heart, this can be a tender mercy.

I think Spokane’s living room elephant may be the third reason for my friend’s misguided defense of Chief Anne Kirkpatrick.

Why is Chief Kirkpatrick so dangerous? Because some elephants will kill you. The evidence suggests to me that Spokane’s elephant of public corruption is what killed Jo Ellen Savage. (Please see “Deathtrap” at

And the exhaustive evidence amassed by Sheriff Bamonte shows that Spokane Police Chief Kirkpatrick is covering for this rogue whose century-old rampage will assuredly continue until the public itself decides to contain it, and figures out how.

Those wanting a closer look at the elephant in Spokane’s living room may want to study some of Sheriff Bamonte’s snapshots of it. You’ll find a few in the attached documents.

Document Links:

A 5-page index sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, showing documentary evidence of Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick “rendering criminal assistance.” (E-118a)

August 18, 2007 letter from Tony Bamonte to Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, requesting a first-degree manslaughter investigation in the Savage death. (E-4)

January 11, 2008 letter from Tony Bamonte to Anne Kirkpatrick, asking about lack of investigation into the Savage manslaughter complaint, including NOT contacting over 15 witnesses, the lack of jurisdiction of the FBI, and the running out of the statute of limitations. (E-25)

January 14, 2008 letter from Anne Kirkpatrick to Tony Bamonte, noting the manslaughter complaint was sent to the FBI, because of the charge of public corruption. (E-26)

January 15, 2008 letter from Tony Bamonte to Anne Kirkpatrick, noting that the heart of the original August 18, 2007 complaint was first-degree manslaughter, not public corruption, and that a public danger persists in the Cowles parking garage. (E-27)

September 16, 2008 letter from Tony Bamonte to Anne Kirkpatrick, requesting a review of evidence and a briefing with legal counsel, the mayor and city council, citing legal duties to investigate. (E-68)

February 2, 2009 letter from Tony Bamonte to Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker, regarding Tucker’s dereliction of duty in investigating the Jo Savage death, after federal prosecutors referred the case to him. (E-83)


Filed under Public Corruption

America’s Most Dangerous Cop

The Spokesman-Review, a newspaper operated by a family whose proven conduct fits the legal definition of organized crime, proclaims that Anne Kirkpatrick is the best police chief in Spokane history. That’s a warning, says a famous sheriff.

NOT EVERY DAY is a city’s police chief accused of organized crime. Even more seldom are such charges brought by a former sheriff with the credentials to make them meaningful.

That’s what happened on Tuesday, April 20, a beautiful spring morning, at a meticulous Spokane South Hill cottage. It was an incongruous setting for what was about to, as cops say, “go down.”

At precisely nine o’clock, Tim Burns knocked at the door. He is the new ombudsman of the Spokane Police Department. Tony Bamonte, former sheriff of Pend Oreille County, invited him in.

No Small Talk

The veteran cops—Burns spent 22 years in law enforcement, Bamonte 25—greeted each other cordially. There was no small talk.

Bamonte handed Burns a computer disc containing several thousand pages of evidence and more than 170 evidence exhibits.

“Each of those exhibits provides documented evidence that a crime was committed, accompanied by the request for legal remedy,” Bamonte told Burns.

He told the ombudsman that the disc’s evidence shows that the Cowles family is engaged in organized crime, and that Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick is protecting them from prosecution.

Bamonte seated Burns at his dining room table, which groaned under the weight of thick binders full of printouts of what was on the disc. In a process he describes as “exhausting my remedies,” Bamonte explained to Burns that he began compiling the evidence three years earlier. The evidence, said Bamonte, shows that the Cowles family’s River Park Square “public/private partnership” with the City of Spokane turned on criminal fraud involving corrupt public officials. That corruption, says Bamonte, led directly to the first-degree manslaughter death of a patron in the RPS parking garage. (See “Deathtrap” at

Bamonte told Burns that he has methodically “worked my way up the chain of command,” asking each successive branch of government to “act on the strong and abundant probable cause contained in my evidence showing that members of the Cowles family and numerous public officials have committed felony crimes.”

Bamonte told Burns that the evidence he was now providing him he had previously given to the mayor of Spokane (the official who hired Burns), Spokane’s Police Chief, County Sheriff, County Prosecutor, the governor of Washington, the state attorney general, the FBI, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Government’s response so far has been that of a single paralyzed body. Doctors might consider this pathognomonic, which refers to symptoms of disease so descriptive that a diagnosis can be made. The disease exposed by Bamonte’s efforts is the same one former City Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers diagnosed as public corruption so extensive as to be a form of “cancer.”

Prominent among the pile on Bamonte’s table was a package containing evidence the former sheriff believes could be among the most explosive yet. This evidence suggests to Bamonte that Spokane County Assessor Ralph Baker is engaged in a massive property assessment fraud worth millions of dollars to the Cowles family. The scheme forces all other Spokane County property owners to pay higher property taxes to make up the difference, says Bamonte.

“This evidence supports probable cause to investigate property tax fraud as an important component of the Cowles family’s organized criminal enterprise,” Bamonte told Burns.

The former sheriff had sent this evidence package to Chief Kirkpatrick. The scrawled order on the package to return it unopened glared from the table like graffiti. This was the second time Kirkpatrick had violated the law, Bamonte told Burns, by failing to investigate a criminal complaint he had filed with her against the Cowles family. The first complaint concerned the April 8, 2006, death of Jo Ellen Savage in the Cowles family’s RPS parking garage. The chief “rat holed” the complaint by illegally handing it over to the FBI, says Bamonte. The FBI compliantly accepted the complaint, then handed it back to local authorities a year later, saying it had no legal authority to investigate the charges. That ran out the clock on the statute of limitations in Savage’s death, exactly as Bamonte had exhaustively explained would happen in a great deal of correspondence—part of his “chain of evidence”—a year earlier.

Here was a simple and viciously sinister plot line, he told Burns. Local law enforcement officials had enlisted willing state and federal law enforcement agencies to use the law to help the Cowles family violate the law. It was a perfect example of the virulent organized crime infecting Spokane. There was even a memo about an assistant state attorney general confirming this. Bamonte included it in the evidence he gave Burns. (See also “American Serbia,” posted below.)

Arrested Ombudsman

“Here, why don’t you read this first,” Bamonte politely suggested, putting a four-page memo summarizing the disc’s contents into Burns’s hands. The summary included Bamonte’s notification of Kirkpatrick that her inaction violated state law and city charter.

“Regarding: Organized crime involving Chief Kirkpatrick and numerous other appointed and elected officials,” the summary begins. It quickly explained Bamonte’s basis for charging the Cowles family with organized crime, at least as the FBI describes organized crime on its Web site and as it is defined by Washington State law.

The FBI, the former sheriff explained, defines organized crime as, “any group having some manner of a formalized structure and whose primary objective is to obtain money through illegal activities. Such groups maintain their position through the use of actual or threatened violence, corrupt public officials, graft, or extortion, and generally have a significant impact on the people in their locales, region, or the country as a whole.”

State law, he noted, reads: “For the purposes of RCW 43.43.850 through 43.43.864 ‘organized crime’ means those activities which are conducted and carried on by members of an organized, disciplined association, engaged in supplying illegal goods and services and/or engaged in criminal activities in contravention of the laws of this state or of the United States.”

Bamonte told Burns that among his evidence the ombudsman would find dozens of actions by the Cowleses, Cowles reporters, and public officials that matched federal and state organized crime statutes.

“In regards to the criminal complaint I filed against Mr. Baker and specific members of the Cowles family, I have been provided with the parcel numbers of 167 Cowles-owned properties,” Bamonte’s memo reads, in part. “During Mr. Baker’s tenure as assessor, he reduced the assessed valuation of 99 of these by millions of dollars. Also, 61 of the 167 Cowles-owned properties have not been increased in value over the last two to four years and, during his tenure in office, only seven out of 167 Cowles-owned properties were increased in assessed valuation – these seven appear to be involved with new construction. This is concerning because Mr. Baker has consistently raised the assessed property valuation for the majority of property owners in Spokane County, which is corroborated by approximately 3,000 property tax appeals he has received over the last year.”

Burns read Bamonte’s memo without looking up. He seemed… arrested.

Except for the ticking of a clock, the room was silent. The précis Burns read argued that Chief Kirkpatrick was protecting Cowles family members from being investigated for Class A felonies involving manslaughter and fraud in return for favorable coverage by Cowles media.

The chief scratched Cowles backs by making sure family members weren’t investigated for their crimes. The Cowleses scratched the chief’s back with press that made her look good. That was the burden of Bamonte’s evidence.

Christ gazed serenely from a portrait on one of the walls. “As for me and my family,” read a hanging on another wall, “we will serve the Lord.” Bamonte’s soft-spoken wife is responsible for that décor.

Décor on the front door, a computer-printed sign, is the former sheriff’s handiwork. “Warning,” it reads. “If you are a thief or burglar and break into our house, be prepared for an unpleasant surprise.”

A Simple Case of Property Assessment Fraud

Burns seemed a little stunned by Bamonte’s memo. By way of further orientation in the property assessment irregularities, Bamonte cited a few examples.

The first was the valuation of the Cowles family’s RPS parking garage. Less than two weeks after the Cowleses cashed the public’s $26 million check for the garage, they asked the city to reduce its assessed valuation to $14.5 million. The city agreed. The city even refunded the Cowleses $63,000 in building permit fees, based on the devaluation. Burns seemed startled.

This wasn’t the first time I had seen such a reaction to this evidence. I once covered a meeting between former Spokane City Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers and then-recently retired Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Guy when Rodgers presented him the same evidence. Judge Guy said he found the evidence surprising. (See “Judge Guy Meets Cherie Rodgers” at

The former chief justice told Rodgers that although Spokane was his hometown, he wouldn’t live here.

“I’ve always considered this a company town, like a coal-mining town,” said Judge Guy.

It was understood that the owner of this particular company town was the Cowles family. The IRS reached a similar conclusion in its 2004 ruling that municipal bonds sold to finance the RPS parking garage violated federal tax code. (See “The Casino was Rigged” at All of this was included in the evidence package presented to the ombudsman of the Spokane Police Dept. by the former sheriff of Pend Oreille County.

As soon as Baker took office, Bamonte informed Burns, Baker further devalued the Cowles-owned RPS parking garage to $10.6 million.

“This is fifteen million dollars worth of assessment fraud any way you look at it,” said Bamonte.

He reminded Burns that one former Spokane County appraiser, Debi Mason, recently reported that she found $20 million of assessment fraud in her single assignment area. She said the fraud she discovered would inevitably run many millions higher when unrecorded improvements were figured in.

Another suspicious Cowles property assessment Bamonte called to the ombudsman’s attention involves more than 600 acres of land owned by Peggy Cowles at Nine Mile Falls. The property features its own private lake and several dwellings. Assessed valuation: $147,650, the same as a modest home in town. The assessor’s report indicates the property hasn’t been inspected in years and that the land was valued until this year at only $6,000.

Meanwhile, said Bamonte, the assessor’s office is being inundated with thousands of complaints about unfair assessment hikes.

Such complaints are inevitable, Mason recently told me. “When you give some property owners a break, you have to make other property owners pick up the difference in order to meet the county’s budget.”

Mason told me that she is frustrated by the indifference toward problems in the assessor’s office shown by all three county commissioners.  She says she supports Bamonte’s call for an investigation into the valuation of Cowles properties, but she also believes, based on her personal experience, that a thorough investigation of the County Assessor’s office is needed.

The Cowles Media Weapon

Burns and Bamonte talked for a little over an hour. Bamonte told Burns that the key to the Cowles family’s extortion of Spokane is its century-old control of the region’s media. The Cowles family uses its media as a weapon, the sheriff told the ombudsman, rewarding with good press those who go along with its criminal activities, punishing those who don’t. Cowles media, he said, is a front for Cowles organized crime.

“This family does terrible things to good people,” Bamonte told Burns. “It’s been going on for more than a century.”

Now a historian who has published dozens of books, Bamonte read to Burns from one of the exhibits on the computer disc he gave him. It was from a front page January 4, 1905, Spokane Press story:

“If the public welfare happens to conflict with the private interests of this publisher [Cowles], the interests of the people must go to the wall. He will resort to the basest misrepresentation through his columns to punish the most reputable citizens in the community if they refuse to submit to his dictation.”

1915 cartoon from Spokane Press

Bamonte urged Burns to study the evidence of the Cowles family’s continuing criminal use of its media in the disc he gave him. Pay special attention, he told him, to the way the Cowles newspaper branded former Mayor John Talbott a “civic terrorist.” Talbott tried to expose the Cowles-engineered $23 million federal loan fraud that was a cornerstone of the family’s larger River Park Square shopping mall fraud. (For details, see “All in the Family” and “Inside Job” at

A perfect current example of Cowles media extortion, said Bamonte, is its coverage of the Spokane Police Guild’s recent no-confidence vote in Chief Kirkpatrick. Bamonte told Burns to check out E-144 and E-152 in his exhibit package. The first is an editorial the paper published on Sunday, April 18, 2010, about the guild’s no-confidence vote. The second consists of two articles the paper published three days earlier. E-152 contains two stories featuring information that contradicts E-144. You don’t need a jeweler’s loupe to see it.

“Police Guild complaint about chief rings hollow,” reads the editorial’s headline. “So what should the public think of the Spokane Police Guild’s no-confidence vote for Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and her administration?” the Cowles paper asked. “Not much.”

The editorial suggested that the no-confidence vote was a vendetta against the chief by her department’s rank and file. The editorial questioned the refusal of the police union to release the count of its no-confidence vote.

“Was that voted upon, or is it spin from a union that isn’t enamored of a boss who tries to hold officers accountable?” queried the unsigned opinion. “Secret results and self-serving analysis just aren’t persuasive.”

“Meanwhile,” noted the editorial, “the Lieutenants and Captains Association gave Kirkpatrick a vote of approval.”

The problem, Bamonte explained to Burns, is that Kirkpatrick’s command staff, including her assistant chief, is now implicated in covering up evidence about how Otto Zehm, a mentally disabled 36-year-old janitor, died in 2006 when Spokane police arrested him.  That is the subject of the first story in E-152.

The second story in E-152 quotes Kirkpatrick saying that the no-confidence vote “is a failed coup. … They [guild members] called for my firing and the mayor has made it very clear that’s not happening.”

The story also noted that, “Despite the vote, Kirkpatrick enjoys strong support from elected leaders.”

But these are the leaders, Bamonte informed Burns, that the evidence in his complaints makes clear are implicated in Spokane’s public corruption.

“Our elected officials serve the Cowles family, not the people of Spokane,” Bamonte told Burns. “Just look at the memo Mayor Verner wrote me saying she couldn’t take on the RPS fraud because of ‘the powers that be.’”

(Mayor Verner’s “powers that be” memo is included in Bamonte’s evidence package. See also, “American Serbia,” below.)

After three decades of covering the—how shall I say?—stunt journalism of the Cowles family, I, too, found E-144 and E-152 pretty acrobatic, even by Cowles standards. The opinion piece about the police guild’s no-confidence vote seemed to invert the evidence contained in the reporting that preceded it. I was so curious about the inconsistencies that I sent Spokesman-Review editor Gary Graham and publisher Stacey Cowles this email request:

“Mr. Graham: Please provide me with the name of the author of today’s Spokesman-Review opinion piece, ‘Police Guild complaint about chief rings hollow.’ I would like to interview the writer. I’m sure you’ll agree that ethical consistency requires that an editorialist and publication advocating police accountability similarly accept editorial accountability. Thank you for your assistance. Sincerely, Larry Shook.”

No answer so far.

Legendary Policeman

By the end of their meeting, the ombudsman seemed both fascinated and perplexed by what the former sheriff had told him

“I’m not sure what I can do about it,” Burns said.

“I’ll tell you exactly what you can do about it,” answered Bamonte. “You’ve been given a voice. You’re the police ombudsman. You can use your voice and call for a grand jury investigation. That is the only proper remedy here. You have to get this evidence in front of a jury.”

Bamonte’s words seemed to weigh on Burns.

“I do have a voice,” Burns agreed.

The ombudsman took his leave, promising to carefully study Bamonte’s evidence. He said he would print out the entire file and use a highlighter on it.

“I feel bad for him,” Bamonte said after Burns left. “He’s in the heart of corruption. He’s going to be fighting everybody. The criminals he’s facing hold the most powerful positions in society. Burns is all alone.”

Bamonte knows the feeling. He became a celebrity in 1989 when he solved the nation’s oldest open murder case. That colorful story of how the Pend Oreille night marshall was murdered by Spokane policemen during a Depression Era creamery robbery hit the front page of The New York Times, was featured in the Unsolved Crimes NBC TV show, and became the subject of a famous book, Breaking Blue. It was a dramatic story of police corruption that began with the Spokane Police Department and included the Spokane Sheriff’s Department, the Washington State Patrol, and the FBI. “A tale of rogue cops and their acts of treachery and violence,” The Los Angeles Times called it.

No one but the elderly children of the murder victim wanted to know what happened. The evidence fell in Bamonte’s lap. He investigated the murder because, under the law, it was his job. Solving that old murder case is far from what Bamonte considers his most significant achievement in law enforcement. He was a distinguished officer throughout his career.

MP Bamonte in Saigon

As a young MP in Saigon, Bamonte was attached to the personal protection detail of U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge. He and several other military policemen sat in a room with Lodge listening to the not-too-distant gunfire of the coup in which South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated.

In time Bamonte became a Spokane street cop. He was a member of SPD’s first SWAT team. Then a “wilderness sheriff,” as the national media dubbed him, in the northeast Washington woods where he grew up. He arrested maybe 15 murderers over the course of his law enforcement career.

As a Spokane motorcycle cop, Bamonte once roared onto the sidewalk at the front door of the Bon Marche department store minutes after a robber had murdered one of the store’s clerks. Bamonte ran inside. From a distance of 10 feet, the killer leveled his pistol at Bamonte’s head. Firing from the hip, Bamonte shot him between the eyes.

Twenty years after leaving law enforcement, people still regularly seek Bamonte’s advice about handling threats. He is considered such a moral authority on police matters that, a few weeks ago, he addressed a continuing education retreat of the Washington State Supreme Court. His subject: “How Police Biases Affect Police Investigations—Then and Now.”

I asked Bamonte what he would do in Burns’s shoes.

“My job.” he said. “That’s all a cop can ever do. The only way to do the job in this case is call for a grand jury. You have to get this evidence in front of a jury.”

One of the things that most upsets Bamonte is the way Chief Kirkpatrick has betrayed her officers.

“Most police officers aren’t just good, honest people, they are among the best of people,” says Bamonte, who holds a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University. “They risk their lives constantly for others. There are bad apples in every profession and organization. The first job of all leadership is keeping those bad apples from spoiling the others. That’s what’s so disturbing about what Kirkpatrick’s doing. She’s rendering criminal assistance to the Cowles family in return for good press. She’s sacrificing this community’s police force to do that. I can’t tell you how bad I feel about this.

“Chief Kirkpatrick unsuccessfully applied for the police chief jobs in San Francisco and Seattle. When you apply for these types of jobs, exceptional weight is given your resumé. She needs the goodwill of the media and, to benefit herself, she has stooped to the lowest possible level to get it. She has betrayed the trust of her department and our community. That betrayal seems to be working for her. As a result, she has received excellent press during her short tenure in Spokane. One Spokesman-Review article labeled her the best police chief in the history of Spokane,” said Bamonte.

Tony Bamonte

“As writers and historians, my wife and I have studied all 32 former police chiefs. We wrote a book on the history of the Spokane Police Department. Since the Spokane Police Department was formed in 1881, Spokane has had some exceptionally honest and brave police chiefs whose accomplishments have been outstanding. The accomplishments of Chief Kirkpatrick seem to be going the other way. I think Kirkpatrick has actually made the job of her patrol officers even more dangerous by undermining the public’s trust and confidence in them.”

Endless Battle

As I left the Bamonte place that morning, I found myself wondering if Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick might be the single most dangerous police chief in America.

I soon concluded that I have no way of knowing, of course. But just as quickly I concluded that it doesn’t matter. This is because of the evidence contained in Sheriff Bamonte’s exhaustive efforts. It clearly shows that Kirkpatrick is the most dangerous kind of police chief. This is because she represents lawlessness –the public corruption cancer referred to by Councilwoman Rodgers—instead of law.

I believe Kirkpatrick’s actions concern not just every citizen of Spokane, but every American citizen, because they reflect the loss of moral fiber in this nation’s government that threatens the very dream of freedom. The evidence is clear—it’s pathognomonic, as doctors say—that the disease of corruption in American government is too far advanced for government leaders to manage without active involvement from the nation’s citizens. Physicians can’t heal those who will not take responsibility for their own health.

What we have here, I believe, is nothing less than the age-old battle between corruption and virtue, between deceit and truth.

This is a crisis for which each of us bears personal responsibility. This blog represents a continuation of my efforts to discharge my responsibility.

If you want to share in that responsibility, you can take some action, however small. You can do something. You don’t have to do nothing. In fact, you can’t do nothing, because inaction feeds corruption even more than complicity.

Here are a few ideas of things you could do:

  1. Forward the link to this blog to everyone on your email list. Accompany it with a note about why you think it’s important. Ask your recipients to share their thoughts with you.
  2. Suggest that your recipients do the same thing with their contacts.
  3. Get together with friends and others and discuss this blog and the evidence it references. Brainstorm about actions that you and others can take. If you do this, you will be contributing to the welfare of all of us. If you don’t, you will be contributing to the great danger we all now share. There’s only one you. All of us desperately need your thoughts and voice.
  4. Send this link to your elected representatives and demand a grand jury investigation of Sheriff Bamonte’s evidence. Demand a response to your demand. Share that response with others, beginning right here. When you have made your demand, hit the comment button below and share your actions with others. When you have had your response, or no response, share it here, too.
  5. Hit the same comment button and share your thoughts right now.
  6. In a way that is consistent with your own beliefs, pray or hope for the outcome you desire (for yourself and those who will come after you). Meditate on its fulfillment. Dream about it. This is nothing less than the dream of freedom, a dream we can’t afford to lose, alone or together.


For brief descriptions of documents, see General Index of Evidence sent to Attorney General Eric Holder, April 1, 2010.

All of the individual documents presented by Sheriff Bamonte to Ombudsman Burns (most of which were also sent to Holder) are public records and may be obtained by contacting Mr. Burns,, or Spokane City Clerk Teri Pfister, RPS-related criminal complaints filed by Sheriff Bamonte with Spokane Mayor Mary Verner and Chief Anne Kirkpatrick are also public records. You may phrase your request: Dear Ms. Pfister: As provided for by the Washington State Public Records Act (RCW 42.56), please provide me with all public records concerning… and stipulate the records you seek. Similar criminal complaints filed by Sheriff Bamonte with Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker may be obtained in the same fashion by contacting county public records clerk James Emacio,


Filed under Public Corruption

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