Monday, June 23, 2008

Democrats Give $10K to Walser Following Guilty Plea

Filings from the Public Disclosure Commission show that the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee gave former Sultan Police Chief Fred Walser $10,000 for his campaign on June 17, almost two weeks after he pled guilty to providing false information and was sentenced to one year in jail.

The obvious question is: if you're a Democrat on the ballot, what do you have to do to NOT get money from the party?

The SDCC has also been paying for Walser's health insurance premiums to GroupHealth, since he has no job, as he was put on leave and resigned due to the investigation. (Correction: It was pointed out that we don't know whose insurance the SDCC is paying for, it could be insurance for people on his staff. Regardless, the point is the SDCC has given significant financial backing to Walser.)

Walser Sued to Stop Investigation and Get a Skateboard Park Named After Him

Upon initiation of the criminal investigation into Fred Walser's coverup of Caroline Pepperell's misdeeds in the Sultan Police Department, Walser responded with a $10m lawsuit against the City of Sultan.

This lawsuit claims that under the "unlawful coercion" of the "false 'criminal investigations,'" Walser tendered his resignation.

We now know, of course, that there was nothing unlawful or false about the criminal investigation, and that Walser was, in fact, guilty. He therefore dropped his lawsuit.

But months before his lawsuit was actually filed, and one month after the criminal investigation began, Walser offered to settle out of court with Sultan. Walser basically wanted, in addition to making sure his initial resignation date would be honored with all earned benefits (it would be), to have all investigations completed within 10 days and heard by an independent party, and to get a letter of appreciation.

Oh, and he wanted a skateboard park named after him.

Now, letters of appreciation and skateboard parks aside, Walser knew at this point that it was a criminal investigation that had been passed off to another jurisdiction (the Everett Police Department) to avoid a conflict of interest. Walser, if he knew how investigations like this work -- which he should know, as he was Police Chief -- knew that Sultan couldn't stop the investigation. The City of Sultan and its employees were potential witnesses to the crime, and not in control of the investigation.

The city's response says about as much.

Walser was literally trying to bully the city into interfering with a criminal investigation run by another jurisdiction (with a threat of an expensive lawsuit, despite claiming he was "concerned over the present financial problems the city is experiencing"). It was one of many attempts to cover up, including providing false information (which he was convicted for), and attempting to convince the Snohomish County Sheriff's Department to block legal public records requests.

Maybe he would have been better off just asking for the skateboard park, although by this point, I doubt he'd have even gotten that.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Walser Sentenced to Year in Jail

According to his plea agreement, former Sultan Police Chief Fred Walser was sentenced to one year in jail, a year of probation, a $500 fine, and an additional $20K in restitution to the City of Sultan.

There is a misperception out there that he was only sentenced to community service. All but 30 days of the one-year jail sentence were suspended, and the 30 remaining days were converted to 8-hour-per day community service, for a total of 240 hours.

If Walser's actual sentence had not been suspended, it would have kept him in jail through the entire campaign and next legislative session. It is unknown whether any Washington state legislator has ever spent an entire session in jail. It is also unknown whether he will complete his community service before the next session, although even if he does, he will still be under probation for a full year, which includes all of next year's legislative session, which means he would need permission from probation to move to Olympia.

Presumably, the court will not allow him to use the Senate, or campaigning for the Senate, as community service. Even if elected, he will have to spend the full 240 hours -- six full-time five-day work weeks -- doing community service, which will eat into his time for campaigning for, preparing for, or serving in office.

The $20K in restitution must be paid by October 23, 2008, less than two weeks before Election Day, when he hopes to be elected to the State Senate for the 39th District. It is, of course, illegal for him to use his campaign funds for paying off the restitution. One way or another, however, that fundraising will also eat into time he should be spending on campaigning and preparing for office.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Fred's Best Week Ever

The Washington State Senate Republicans released a video about Fred Walser's Best Week Ever: filing as a Democratic candidate for Senate, meeting with his lawyers, and then pleading guilty to the crime of providing false information (see our post detailing what happened there).

Then I decided to put the idea to music, with a song I called "Best Week Ever." It's what I do. Sometimes.

Both videos are below.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fred Walser Pleads Guilty

On June 5, former Sultan Police Chief Fred Walser pled guilty to a criminal charge stemming from his administrative assistant's misconduct.

Walser admitted he knew about Caroline Pepperell's history of misusing her previous position to investigate neighbors and associates but hired her anyway. Then when she was investigated for doing it while working for the Sultan Police Department, Walser provided false information to investigators. Walser claims, “I had a sheriff’s report in my file that I absolutely forgot about.” But the report from the Everett Police Department (pages 1-9, pages 10-20, and pages 21-31) tells a different story.

Essentially, the evidence shows that Pepperell misused police resources to harass her neighbor, and then in order to keep her on staff, Walser lied to multiple investigative bodies, violated a mayoral order, and filed a false sexual harassment complaint against her replacement.

A brief history is in order.

In August 2005, Gayle Harvie's dogs were poisoned, and one died. Believing Pepperell was involved due to personal history between the two, she began looking into, among other things, whether Pepperell might have accessed Harvie's name inappropriately, using Sultan PD resources.

On March 9, 2006, Snohomish County Detective Steve Clinko met separately with Walser and Pepperell about the poisoning complaint, and he told Walser that Pepperell had, in fact, accessed Harvie's name in the ACCESS computer system in June 2005.

But on May 18, 2006, Walser provided a log -- dated March 9 -- in response to Harvie's records request that showed Pepperell had not accessed Harvie's name (a claim Walser would make many more times), despite Walser being told on the very same day, March 9, that she had.

Walser says he later found the document and turned it over to city staff, but this was only after the investigation of him began, a year later, at which point he told the mayor he had it in the file all along, he had flagged it, and he knew where it was.

Walser's public answer -- "all I did was put a sheriff's report in a file and forgot about it" -- has little credibility, just based on the facts. But the Everett PD report also shows a disturbing pattern of behavior that makes Walser's plea of ignorance seem completely unbelievable. What followed the above events is, perhaps, even more disturbing.

In September 2006 it was deemed necessary to limit Pepperell's use of ACCESS, her abuse of which constituted part of the investigation, during that investigation. Walser resisted from the beginning, saying he couldn't run the department without Pepperell, but a plan was devised to train employee Tami Peavey (who already had been certified to use ACCESS) to take over.

Peavey was trained, but Walser still resisted, and despite Mayor Ben Tolson's orders, Pepperell still had full access in November 2006. He said he couldn't use ACCESS himself, and needed Pepperell to do it (despite also claiming he checked ACCESS himself, to determine that Pepperell had not accessed Harvie's information).

In February 2007, Walser initiated a sexual harassment complaint against Peavey, based on a meeting with three Sultan PD officers. He stated Peavey would not be allowed access to the police department from that day forward.

However, one of those officers, Sean Gillespie, denied being at the event where the alleged harassment took place, denied being in the meeting, denied saying the things Walser attributed to him, and denied knowing anything about the incident. Officer Gillespie filed a grievance with his union over Walser's complaint against Peavey. The allegations against Peavey were officially dropped in March 2007.

After the internal investigation of Walser was announced, in May 2007, Walser tried to convince then-Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart to not publicly disclose information regarding the investigation of Pepperell, claiming they should be treated as internal documents, which they were not.

Walser announced his resignation four days later, and city attorneys even helped him draft his resignation letter during the investigation. Yet, he said that when he was placed on administrative leave, a few weeks after, that he was "surprised."

Walser then responded with a $10m lawsuit against the city, maintaining his innocence. He has now dropped both his lawsuit and his plea of innocence, with a plea of guilty -- coming just a few days after filing to run for the 39th Legislative District Senate seat as a Democrat -- which brings with it a $20,000 fine and 240 hours of community service.

We'll have more on this story in the coming weeks. There is, unfortunately, even more. We haven't yet looked at the Whatcom County papers (where he was formally charged, again, due to conflicts of interest), and there's even more in the Everett report, the now-dropped lawsuit, and elsewhere.

Stay tuned, and feel free to read some of the and source documents, and news articles in chronological order, linked in the sidebar.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Walser's Record Begins with Bad Management

As a police chief in the City of Sultan, Fred Walser spent ten embattled years mismanaging the Police Department. He was constantly over budget, had a worse-than-average retention rate with his officers leaving to work for other departments, and got in trouble for hiring other police department's wash-outs.

One such hire would cost the taxpayers dearly, when he hired Caroline Pepperell to work as his top assistant in the Sultan Police Department.

Pepperell had been discharged from the City of Mountlake Terrace for misusing police computers to find potential "dates."

KIRO TV reported that Walser "admits he knew Pepperell had been caught using Mountlake Terrace police computers to find dates. He hired her anyway."

According to KIRO TV's Chris Halsne, Mountlake Terrace Police Chief Scott Smith said, "She ran over 200 license plates of individuals for personal use. The investigation determined she would attend various functions, rodeos or different establishments and typically would find an individual she would find attractive, get their license plate and run their license plate."

Fred Walser hired Pepperell as his top assistant and kept her history and wrongdoing a secret from officials and the public.

That's not where the story ends, but where it begins.

Under Walser, Pepperell once again used police department resources to snoop into sensitive files, this time to harass her neighbors in an ongoing spat.

The City brought in the Washington State Patrol to conduct an investigation of Pepperell. The Mayor of Sultan concluded from that investigation that she was guilty of a firing offense and terminated her.

A copy of the termination letter signed by the Mayor outlines the allegations and findings of the City of Sultan.

The cost of the investigation was about $40,000, all of which could have been saved if Fred Walser had the judgment to hire someone without a history of criminal behavior to work as his top assistant in the Police Department.

Copies of Police Documents

Friday, June 13, 2008

Who Does Fred Walser Stand With on U.S. 2?

In January 2008, Mary Margaret Haugen (D-10, Camano Island), chair of the State Senate Transportation Committee, assured citizens that they would work on U.S. 2, saying:
"There's no doubt that U.S. 2 in Snohomish County has seen more than its share of deadly accidents -- from January 1999 to June 2007 there were 39 fatal collisions, with a total of 47 fatalities. ... The state has an obligation to make U.S. 2 safer."

But just a few months earlier, she admitted that the Democrats were putting politics above safety, and putting blame on the 39th District voters themselves:
"It's really brutal to say, but the people from those districts didn't support anything as far as funding," and consequently, less revenue went to districts with legislators who didn't support the tax measure, she explained. "That certainly is a big reason."

And just a few months later, Haugen earmarked $13m for an Amtrak station in her district, and another $82m for congestion relief in her district, while authorizing only $14m for U.S. safety.

Haugen also wrote in January:
"I ... agree that we need to work toward reducing congestion on our highways -- but not at the risk of sacrificing safety."
So Senator Val Stevens, who Walser is trying to unseat in the 39th District, proposed an amendment to the transportation budget: kill the Amtrak station, and -- as Haugen herself said -- put safety first, and move that $13m to U.S. 2.

Haugen killed the amendment.

So we have a simple question: does Walser stand with Stevens or Haugen? Specifically, does Walser agree with the decision to punish 39th District voters by withholding U.S. 2 safety improvements? Does he agree that an Amtrak station and congestion relief in Haugen's district are more important than safety improvements on U.S. 2?

Who does Walser stand with on U.S. 2: one of the leaders of his own party, or the opponent he is trying to unseat?

The voters want to know.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

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