Skip to comments.Cowles media dynasty called hub of organized crime by two former lawmen
Posted on 02/12/2009 8:27:45 PM PST by narses
Woman died, public threatened because of government collusion with powerful family, they say
By Larry Shook
SPOKANE, WASH. The former sheriff credited with solving Americas oldest open murder case is accusing one of Americas oldest publishing dynasties of organized crime that reaches to the highest levels of the federal government, including the U.S. Dept. of Justice, the FBI, the IRS and the SEC. The corruption, he says, has already caused one womans death and could lead to large numbers of other deaths.
Based on an extensive chain of evidence that he has compiled over the last eighteen months, and a new smoking gun document that he obtained only last week, Tony Bamonte yesterday called upon the Washington State attorney general and the Spokane County commissioners to take aggressive action.
Bamonte asked the public officials to immediately close a central downtown parking garage here where a woman died three years ago when a wall failed. The facility is part of the trouble-plagued River Park Square shopping mall. River Park Square is owned by the Cowles family, the dominant force in Inland Northwest media for more than a century and one of the nations wealthiest and most powerfully connected publishing clans.
Bamonte also asked the attorney general to empanel a grand jury to investigate evidence that the garage patrons death was a direct result of organized criminal activity involving the Cowleses and public officials. This criminal activity, he says, continues to threaten garage parkers.
The basis for these requests is contained in the enclosed 92-exhibit, 229-page documentation of evidence concerning the April 8, 2006, death of Ms. Savage in the River Park Square garage in Spokane, Washington, Bamonte wrote Attorney General Rob McKenna. This evidence provides a time line of nonfeasance and, what appears to be, criminal assistance rendered by public officials concerning the first-degree manslaughter complaint I filed in August 2007 with the Spokane county sheriff and Spokane city police chief in the matter of Ms. Savages death.
Jo Ellen Savage died after her car plunged from the seventh floor of the Cowles parking garage. The garage was the financial cornerstone of the Cowles mall, redeveloped a decade ago with public funds.
This documentation establishes evidence of criminal activity, corruption and subsequent cover-ups involving specific members of the Cowles family, the Spokane County sheriff and prosecutor, and the Spokane city police chief and mayor surrounding Ms. Savages death, Bamontes letter to McKenna continues. It also provides evidence that the hazard that killed Ms. Savage continues to exist and worsen with time. Further, the evidence suggests that the entire Cowles garage may be in such poor condition that an outright failure of the facility is possible. If that happened, a large number of people could be injured or killed.
Public money funneled to private mall
The initial furor surrounding the Cowles mall involved the familys ability to leverage at least $100 million of public funds to redevelop it. Citizen lawsuits attempting to halt the public/private partnership failed, but the national media assailed its dubious use of public money. Both Time and Forbes magazine branded River Park Square a prime example of corporate welfare. The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page article about the project, also questioning its use of public funds.
In the end, the Cowles mall, which opened in 1999, triggered a successful securities fraud lawsuit against virtually every major project participant.
A scathing IRS report, which read like a criminal indictment, ruled that municipal bonds sold to finance the parking garage violated federal tax law. The IRS didnt stop with merely collecting taxes on the Cowles garage, however. It called the redevelopment of River Park Square a scheme that used a rigged appraisal. It found that a chain for events was put in place that appears to be designed to hide the true nature of the transaction. The Cowleses and Spokane officials used smoke and mirrors, wrote the IRS, to fashion a deal that raises troubling questions of potential fraud It is clear from the facts of this case, the developer [the Cowles family] 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.
Despite such language, the IRS did not pursue criminal charges. That inaction raised suspicion among many, including Bamonte, that it had been coopted by Cowles influence.
The death of Jo Ellen Savage on April 8, 2006, wrote Bamonte in the August 18, 2007 manslaughter complaint he filed with Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, came about as the direct result of certain city officials who, with deliberate intent and disregard for the publics safety, appeared to have colluded to bypass mandated city safety-inspection rules in favor of the financial interests of Spokanes most powerful family a family who controls 80% of Spokanes media and, indirectly, the political careers of Spokanes elected and appointed officials.
The Cowles family publishes Spokanes only daily newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, operates the citys NBC-affiliate TV station, KHQ, and publishes the citys business journal. The familys real estate empire includes major holdings in the Spokane Valley, the core of downtown retail property, vast timberlands, and a paper mill on the Spokane River.
Criminal complaint became hot potato
Bamonte, a 25-year law enforcement veteran and former three-term sheriff of neighboring Pend Oreille County, was thrust into the national spotlight two decades ago when he was credited with solving the Depression-era murder of the Pend Oreille night marshall by a notorious Spokane policeman. Bamonte obtained confessions from two other former Spokane policemen one eventually became police chief to covering up the 54-year-old crime. That case, and the media attention surrounding it a front-page New York Times story, the book Breaking Blue, a segment on the TV program Unsolved Mysteries made Bamonte nationally famous.
Bamonte says he first learned of the disturbing details surrounding Savages death by reading the article Death by Parking on this website. Long retired from law enforcement, Bamonte has for many years been recognized as one of the inland Northwests leading historians. He and his wife, Suzanne, operate their own publishing company. A planned book on Spokanes history will contain a chapter dealing with the Cowles familys hundred-year influence over the community, he says. It was in the course of researching that chapter that he read Death by Parking.
The criminal investigators training soon trumped the historians scholarship. Before he knew it, Bamonte found himself investigating Savages death on his own. After a year of research, he decided he had to act.
I couldnt live with myself if I didnt do everything I can to prevent another tragedy like that one, he says.
Bamonte hoped his complaint would result in a long overdue criminal investigation of Savages death. Instead, it launched a contest of wills between the former sheriff and local officials. Anne Kirkpatrick, the police chief, promptly referred Bamontes complaint to the FBI. Ozzie Knezovich, the sheriff, supported the chiefs decision. The FBI accepted the case.
Based on a long history of dealing with public corruption, the former sheriff smelled a rat. He immediately fired off letters to Kirkpatrick, Knezovich, Spokane Mayor Mary Verner, and the FBI agent in charge of the Spokane office. He informed them all that Kirkpatricks action was improper under the Revised Code of Washington. While local and state law enforcement had a duty under state law to investigate Savages death, he advised the recipients of his correspondence, the FBI had no jurisdiction in the matter.
If Chief Kirkpatrick saw merit in the case, reasoned Bamonte, she had to know that referring it to the FBI was not her proper remedy under the law. I believe she ducked a call out of her own political self-interest. Taking on the Cowles family and facing its editorial wrath is not a healthy thing for any politician in this area to do.
Bamontes reasoning is heightened by his own experience on the Spokane Police Department, where he served for eight years. I hadnt been on the job for two weeks when my supervising officer, Charlie Dodson, warned me: You dont take on the Cowles family. Bamonte says that admonition was repeated many times during his years as a Spokane policeman. Other retired Spokane policemen say they were given the same warning.
Chief Kirkpatrick declined comment on Bamontes charge that she acted improperly.
The new evidence Bamonte obtained last week is a declaration by Rex Franklin, the former manager of the River Park Square garage. It is a grim portrait of a dangerous place.
In his declaration, Franklin says that for many years before Jo Ellen Savage died, the garage was replacing one to three panels a year just like the one that failed and killed Savage. The panels were ruined, said Franklin, by vehicle contacts that were so light that most of these contacts did not damage the vehicle.
Franklin describes terrifying barrier failures that left vehicles hanging out of the garage, resting on their undercarriages.
Of one incident, Franklin said: In 1990, a particularly serious vehicular-spandrel incident occurred. An elderly gentleman driving a Cadillac bumped into a spandrel I personally inspected the subject vehicle, I asked the driver and passenger who were panic-stricken to exit their vehicle, and I observed the panel broken off and hanging by rebar
Below the protruding car and dangling concrete was a pedestrian hallway, noted Franklin.
To the best of my recollection, at the time I tendered my resignation in March of 1994, only one of the numerous spandrel failures, the one that occurred in March of 1991 had become public knowledge, declared Franklin.
Franklins declaration was signed July 19, 2006. I had known of its existence since about that time but had been unable to obtain a copy of it. While the content of it was generally characterized to me, I did not know the details. Even so, in 2006 Franklin confirmed to me that during his tenure as a garage manager, he had begged the Cowleses to make much-needed repairs and they refused.
A Spokesman-Review story last Thursday (Feb. 5, 2009) by Jonathan Brunt referred to the newly surfaced statement, which was also posted on the newspapers website. I immediately called Brunt to find out how he had obtained it and how long he had had it. It was an important question, because Franklins declaration contained chilling evidence of a public safety hazard that the public had long been entitled to know about. Brunt could not be reached for comment.
Former sheriff Bamonte was shocked by Franklins declaration. He says it strongly supports bringing criminal charges against James P. Cowles, as former head of Cowles real estate companies, and his niece, Betsy, chairwoman of Cowles Publishing Co. and president of KHQ TV, who took over from him.
Even more dismaying to Bamonte, he says, is that the FBI and county prosecutor have long been aware of this evidence and taken no action.
What kind of people could have this kind of deadly knowledge and do nothing about it? he asks. A lot of people have known for a long time just how dangerous the River Park Square garage is, and yet they have kept silent allowing their fellow citizens be exposed to this proven deathtrap. That tells you just how afraid people are of the Cowles family.
(Click here to read Franklin declaration.)
Creating a chain of evidence
Since filing his manslaughter complaint, in some one hundred pieces of correspondence to various public officials and Cowles media personnel, Bamonte has established what he refers to as a chain of evidence exposing a pattern of criminal activity involving Cowles family members and an ever-widening circle of public officials. Bamontes evidence shows that both the Cowles family and city officials in Spokane had long known of the public safety hazard that claimed Savages life. They covered up that evidence, he says, as part of a fraud that used the Cowles parking garage to illegally launder public money into Cowles real estate companies.
Typical of Bamontes chain of evidence correspondence is the letter he wrote to Sheriff Knezovich on January 21, 2009.
Based on three separate and damning engineering reports, the RPS garage has been identified, since 1993, as an extremely dangerous public facility information currently unknown to the general public, wrote Bamonte.
Contained in these engineer reports you will find terms used such as the following:
. . . sub-standard materials, sub-standard construction, steel corrosion related stress occurring on the parking deck slabs, slab soffits, beams, girders and precast spandrels. These findings are serious and indicate an imperative for actions to repair, restore and protect . . . the 1999 addition to the freestanding parking garage was not built to a first class condition, the parking garage has not been operated and maintained in a first class order, condition and repair. many precast spandrels are in poor physical condition with scaling and delaminations present, inferior quality concrete finishes in many locations, much, if not most of the restoration was not performed on the original Circa 1974 garage, during or after the Circa 1998 parking garage expansion project, Petrographic analysis of concrete core samples indicates the concrete is of relatively poor quality in terms of it having moderately to poor cement past-aggregate bond, Assume that the panels [barriers] will fail and add steel cables to stop vehicles before they impact the panels. Etc. . . .
The true extent of this information about the garages poor condition has been illegally and unethically kept from the public by the owners of the garage and covered-up by city officials for years both before and since Jo Savages tragic death. None of the primary safety suggestions contained in these engineers reports were ever implemented. To the contrary, the patchwork repairs the garage owners elected to make appear to have weakened the already dangerous barriers and made them less safe, providing the public with an increased sense of false security. The engineers reports indicate that not only do the spandrels present a reckless and life-threatening condition but the entire garage appears to need some immediate attention. The worst case scenario would be a complete failure of this parking garage (especially during a full-capacity load that could exceed the containment of 1000 vehicles) beginning at the upper level in a similar fashion to the world trade center buildings. This is a legitimate concern based on the engineers reports outlining the condition of the garage. It is also important to note the last of these inspections was made six years ago.
The point, Sheriff, is that engineering evidence suggests this is the type of structural deterioration that could cause a collapse with a massive loss of human life. I am again putting you on notice of this condition and strongly request that you share this letter with Prosecutor Tucker, Mayor Verner and the entire Spokane City Council, Chief Kirkpatrick and your personal attorney.
In other correspondence, Bamonte has asked both the Spokane City Council and the CEO of Nordstrom the prestigious retailer is River Park Squares anchor tenant to take immediate action to protect the publics safety from what he refers to as documented hazards in the Cowles garage. Bamonte believes Nordstrom has a special duty to act, because covenants in its lease with the Cowleses give Nordstrom effective control of the garage.
Bamonte copied that correspondence to Stacey Cowles, publisher of the Cowles-owned Spokesman-Review newspaper, and two Spokesman-Review reporters. That correspondence constitutes guilty knowledge on the part of Cowles media personnel. If Cowles reporters choose to cover this story, I will give them my full cooperation in developing it, as I assisted them in covering other crimes throughout my law enforcement career, says Bamonte. If they ignore the story, I will include that as evidence in my continuing efforts.
Bamonte notes that he has also taken care to load various Cowles reporters with guilty knowledge of their employers actions. According to the newspapers own code of ethics, he has noted, the reporters have a duty to report facts he has brought to their attention. Facts he has asked them to report on, he says, bear on Savages death and the relationship of evidence of River Park Square financial fraud to her death.
I have made such a clear record of The Spokesman-Reviews non-reporting of criminal evidence surrounding the River Park Square fraud and Savages death that I now consider the newspapers conduct part of a larger pattern of criminal activity, says Bamonte.
That pattern of organized crime continues to threaten the lives of unsuspecting visitors to the Cowles garage today, he continues. Based on the evidence I am presenting, specific government officials must now act or they will be complicit in the crimes I am alleging. We have a crisis here. Lives are at risk. Public officials are taking their orders from a corrupt family that uses its media to run local government. These public officials are covering up evidence of manslaughter and fraud because it implicates them. Its the most dangerous and repugnant public corruption Ive ever seen, and it extends all the way to the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI. Evidence shows that the federal government is well aware of whats going on in Spokane and is doing nothing about it. I believe this is because of the political influence and media power of the Cowles family.
Bamonte says that if the public officials from whom he is demanding action do not act, as they are required by state law and their oaths of office, I will personally pursue them in the courts by bringing civil charges against them. Ill also do everything I can to prevent them from using public money to defend themselves against the public corruption charges I will bring against them.
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Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker has asked for advice from the state Attorney General’s office on an investigation into the death of a woman whose car fell from the River Park Square parking garage in 2006.
Tucker said this week that he and Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll reviewed boxes of information on the case gathered by federal investigators and that the two of them came to similar but slightly different conclusions. He declined to elaborate.
“I think it will be good to have a third opinion,” Tucker said.
In September, federal investigators said no federal charges applied to the death of Jo Ellen Savage, but they turned over files they gathered to Tucker’s office to consider if state manslaughter charges apply. Savage died April 8, 2006, after her car hit a garage wall and fell from the structure’s fifth level.
Tucker said although he is seeking the state’s opinion, the final charging decision still will rest with him.
River Park Square is a subsidiary of the Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.
Dan Sytman, Attorney General spokesman, said the office received the investigative files from Tucker on Wednesday.