FYI – This latest round started in a dust up at David Laird’s S-R Blog Community Comment.

UPDATE:  My previous letter to S-R Editor Steve Smith of April 11, 2008, can be found in this previous post:

UPDATE – S-R Editor Steve Smith bans RBT from all S-R Blogs

Ron the Cop


Dear Mr. Cowles:

Please see my attached letter I just forwarded to Mr. Steve Smith, Editor of the Spokesman-Review. I’m just amused by Mr. Smith’s comments. I rather suspect that such comments by other S-R editors and reporters would result in a trip to the woodshed. Such shooting from the hip remarks would incur potential liability for libel suits that you would ultimately have to sign the check for.


Ron Wright


[Ed Note: This is slightly edited from the original that was posted earlier. A couple of spelling errors were corrected and dead HTML links were corrected]

Certified US Mail

June 5, 2008

Steve Smith, Editor
999 West Riverside Ave.
Spokane, WA 99201

Re: Your comments in S-R Blog “Community Comments” on June 3, 2008

Dear Mr. Smith:

I too take exception with your comments as have Tim Connor and Larry Shook. Mr. Smith It was refreshing for once you chose not to use your normal terms of endearment e.g., wackaloons, nutsos, crazies, and little green men, in referring to others and me who have contrary opinions to yours regarding the Cowles Co & RPS et al. As I emailed David Laird the host of Community Comment:

OK to be perfectly clear I didn’t accuse anyone of anything. I said, “. . . if the shoe fits – wear it.” I said as a career investigative professional I would sure use the murder of SFD Fire Captain Hanna as a hammer in asking probative questions that no one seems to be asking in this town other than a few whom Smith attempts to marginalize with his broad brush characterizations. Mr. Smith will not debate the facts or attempt to correct where Connor and Shook are in error

I told Mr. Laird I too would be sending you a letter to clarify where you have mischaracterized my previous comments in support of your recent remarks in the S-R Community Comment Blog thread:

. . . I finally pulled the plug on him when he accused — and still maintains — the Cowles family of arson and murder for incidents that occurred some 30 years ago give or take. (At the time, Stacey Cowles would have been 12 years old, give or take.) Of course there is nothing behind these accusations, first aired publicly by the Connor/Shook duo and repeated by RBT as if they were his own.

Mr. Smith may I remind you of my previous letter of April 11, 2008 where I sought to clarify your previous accusations about me:

We are under no obligation to provide space to someone who flatly and without the least bit of evidence, disregarding the laws of fairness, decency and common sense, accuses our owners of manslaughter, arson and murder and the rest of us of being accessories.

To be as factual as possible, neither Larry Shook nor Tim Connor to my knowledge have made any mention of arsons and murders as this relates to the Cowles family with the exception of the death of Jo Savage in the RPS parking garage. These arson fires were a tangential discussion that first arose on the Mark Fuhrman Radio Show. If my memory serves me correctly, it was a caller to the Fuhrman Show that first brought up the subject of the arson fire at the District 81 building. This caller was an employee of the school district and worked in this building. He was at the building the morning of the fire. He said there was a fire started in the basement as well as on an upper floor. It was later that on the air Mark Fuhrman asked Larry Shook about the District 81 fire. It was during this conversation Mr. Shook as an aside mentioned his personal knowledge of the arson fire at the Zukor Building (Note: Zukor clothing store in the Jamieson building). I can’t recall if Mr. Shook made any mention of SFD Captain Hanna who was killed fighting this fire or any linkage to the Cowles family. This is when I first learned of these fires and undertook my own independent research.

As Mr. Shook expressed in an email to me:

You’re tapping your training and experience as a law officer to serve as a proxy for the law here, just as the law contemplates citizens do. What you are doing is generous and noble, and the public is indebted to you. It’s especially important in this case, because a public safety officer–a fireman–died doing his job. Spokane owes it to Capt. Hanna, and to itself, to care about his death. Capt. Hanna was murdered. God help this community if that’s okay with it.

To be honest this does stick in my craw from where I’m from. In my experience the death of a police officer or a fireman would be an all out 24/7 investigation. During my police career at my department there were six officers murdered I personally knew let alone at surrounding agencies. There were no stones left unturned to find and hold those accountable who were responsible and those who aided and or abetted in these deaths. I find such a commitment strangely lacking in this town especially investigative reporting by the Spokesman-Review.

As you know both former Sheriff Bamonte and I concur upon the review of the Camas documentation believe the Savage death should be thoroughly investigated and if warranted, prosecuted as a negligent homicide. Under Washington State Law this would be First-Degree Manslaughter. The information contained in Sheriff Bamonte’s complaint was sufficient to warrant the review now underway by two Assistant US Attorneys in the US Attorney’s Office in Seattle. This occurred since the recusal of US Attorney Jim McDevitt and reassignment of these related cases to the Seattle Office. Sheriff Bamonte was recently contacted by federal investigators in response to his complaint.

Mr. Smith your most recent references of arson and murder are apparently from my comments and opinions from my own independent investigation and research of the STA Transit Plaza Project and the preceding arson/murder fire at the Zukor Bldg where the STA Transit Plaza now sits. It was during this research I confirmed the death of Captain Hanna in the Zukor arson fire as it was reported in the S-R from the archives of the Spokane Public Library. Captain Hanna’s death is also documented at the Spokane Fire Department’s web site under, “Line of duty Deaths.” I am also researching the arson fire of the District 81 School Administration Building where Nordstrom’s is now located at RPS. Mind you these two major fires occurred within a year’s time of each other. I have compiled the ownership title transfers on these properties before and after these fires. I’ve also compiled documentation that reveals the STA official build out costs of the STA Transit Plaza and the Assessor’s current value of this property and building are substantially different. Further from the recent public debate, it is apparent that the STA Transit Plaza was poorly located in the first place. Whether by coincidence or not some of these owners have associations with others who were involved in other “suspect” public projects in Downtown Spokane. I have filed several public document requests with the City of Spokane to review the police/fire investigative files on these fires and the Jo Savage death.

As I said in my last letter to you in clarification to your email banning me from all S-R Blogs:

If your were referring to my recent email to S-R Reporter Jonathan Brunt regarding the STA Transit Plaza and the Zukor Building arson/murder fires, I meant what I said, ” . . . if the shoe fits – wear it.” . . .

Investigative reporters and criminal investigators share many common tools and techniques. In one way we differ is the manner we pose probative questions to potential witnesses and suspects. We all seek the truth and ultimately serve the public. I won’t restate my operating hypothesis [* and reference link] outlined in the Brunt email but I will say from my review of the Camas Magazine documents there is a clear pattern and practice in a series of public/private projects in Downtown Spokane where “tainted” public financing was used to enrich the pockets of a few individuals at the expense of the public. Based on my training, education, and investigative experience this is an ongoing criminal enterprise where individuals at different times have acted together in concert to commit criminal acts and/or individually carried out with the knowledge and approval of this group. This by definition, Mr. Smith, is a criminal conspiracy.

In my review of the circumstances and evidence I believe there is reasonable cause to believe a similar MO is apparent in the STA Transit Plaza Project. I don’t know who burned out whom in the Zukor Building arson fire or in the District 81 Building arson fire but some of the same individuals clearly economically benefited from these fires. Generally if anyone aides, abets the principals in the commission of these acts, with criminal knowledge personally benefits, conceals information and/or impedes the investigation is criminally liable. As a criminal investigator I most assuredly would be asking probative questions to seek the truth. I would in a heartbeat use as a “hammer” as any cop would who wasn’t green behind the ears, that Captain Hanna was killed fighting the Zukor Building fire. I would make it very clear this was an arson/murder fire and further ANY involvement could bring criminal liability for murder under the general felony/murder rule. This applies as well to the Savage death in the RPS Parking Garage that both former Sheriff Bamonte and I believe was a negligent homicide arising to the level of a first-degree manslaughter in Washington.

[*] [Note: My operating hypothesis is based in part on my read of the IRS ruling disallowing the tax-exempt status of the first RPS bonds and as reported by Camas Magazine in ‘The Casino was Rigged‘. Based on the IRS report I don’t know why the IRS didn’t pursue criminal fraud charges against those involved. My speculation based on my experience is that IRS knew that pursuing such a criminal case was a losing cause based on the relationship of the current US Attorney for the Eastern District of WA, Jim McDevitt, and his previous personal relationship with the RPS bond fraud and with his former colleague Attorney Michael Ormsby at the law firm of Preston & Gates.

This is the same Michael Ormsby that the IRS took the unprecedented action of castigating publicly in implicating him in the RPS bond fraud as reported in Bond Buyer for, “. . . incompetence and disreputable conduct.” The Bond Buyer mistakenly reported though that the tax-exempt status of the RPS bonds was preserved in this settlement. In fact the tax-exempt status was disallowed and the IRS got its back taxes of some $8M through a secret deal with Preston & Gates.]

I’m sure both Mr. Connor, Mr. Shook and I would be very forthcoming to immediately correct any errors or misstatements of facts that we have made. Your attempts to discredit and to marginalize us, our credentials, credibility, veracity, and thereby our professional opinions would be better served if you would debate the facts.

It would be refreshing for once if you as the editor and as an advocate of “journalism of verification” of a major regional newspaper would debate the facts. Instead you attempt to marginalized those who would ask legitimate probative questions to hold their government accountable. Why Mr. Smith? In my opinion this is a fundamental responsibility of our free press as empowered by WE THE PEOPLE to hold those whom WE CHOOSE to govern accountable.

With this in mind when will the S-R be reporting the following stories:

The significance of the O. Yale Lewis Documents now in possession of the City of Spokane

Mayor Mary Verner recently met with Attorney O. Yale Lewis who was retained by former Mayor John Talbott to investigate the RPS bond fraud but was fired with the election of former Mayor Powers (Note: Michael Ormsby was his campaign treasurer)

Both the RPS cases et al and the Jo Savage manslaughter case are now under active review by the US Attorney’s Office in Seattle since their reassignment after the recusal of US Attorney Jim McDevitt which was the direct result of the Mark Fuhrman Radio Show.

Federal investigators have recently contacted former Sheriff Bamonte regarding his complaint regarding the death of Jo Savage in the RPS parking garage

A comprehensive story – more than the S-R’s brief mention of Tim Connor’s recent appeal of the WSBA’s initial ruling re S-R Attorney Duane Swinton. This would be informative to the readers regarding certain confidentially agreements that Mr. Swinton was apparently involved in that withheld certain material information from both the defrauded RPS institutional bond investors and the citizens of Spokane.

What does the STA plan to do with it’s rumored $58M cash reserve that it appears to be rolling over from year to year? Why was the STA’s Draft Transit Development Plan 2009-2015 pulled back from the public libraries before the last election? Why is the STA using Michael Ormsby even on a temporary basis in view of the IRS’s findings. Why haven’t we heard that the City of Spokane received a $260K grant from the state to study a rail trolley system in Downtown Spokane, the City has spent $160K of these funds to evaluate if the bridges can sustain the additional weight, and the remaining $100K will be used to educate the public on the need for the trolleys? I have nothing against light rail but the current gas powered trolleys are running near empty. Yes, rail trolleys would provide a nice added ambiance to Downtown Spokane. On the other hand the current ridership and density won’t sustain rail trolleys without heavy public subsidy. These trolleys would only benefit a few property owners at public expense.

Spokane Valley the new Chinatown” or perhaps “Sewer Wars in the Valley.” The Spokane Area has an unprecedented resource, the Rathdrum Aquifer. In the future clean water will become more important and more valuable than oil. The EPA has designated this aquifer as a “sole source” and has required sanitary sewers be installed to protect it. The game afoot now is who is going to pay for this sewer infrastructure and will those costs be equitably borne by developers and residents alike including the Cowles Co and its Inland Empire Paper plant?

Speaking of the Spokane Valley, why is the Chief of Police strongly discouraged from appearing on local talk shows to speak directly to the people. To me this flies in the face of community orientated policing philosophy. Is there a move afoot to create a new Spokane Valley PD perhaps against the wishes of the people who elected Sheriff Knezovich overwhelming in all precincts? Why?

I see that Dr. Kim Thorburn has announced her candidacy to run for County Commissioner against incumbent Todd Mielke. The apparent “bums rush” given Dr. Thorburn is what attracted my interest to Spokane politics in the first place since arriving here a year ago. I’m finding it hard to reconcile the “cover story” of the Board for her termination. While I don’t agree with her with some of her political views, I’ve learned from many sources they have found her to be the consummate public health professional. I’ve often wondered if the location of the public health building in the middle of Kendall Yards had more to do with her dismissal than anything of substance. There is a rumor circulating that there are “deep dark secrets” in her personnel file that would explain her dismissal. Further she was offered a “turn key” building by the project developers to move the public health building. I don’t know if these rumors are true. With my research so far on public development projects in this town I wouldn’t trust either developer promises as far as I could throw them. Perhaps Dr. Thorburn was seen as a “roadblock” to this project as she would have made sure the publics’ interest and equity were protected – a rare commodity in this town? I would like to be informed. Will someone ask the probative questions?

I as a reader of the Spokesman-Review, the paper of record for Spokane, I would be interested reading about these stories. Something tells me I will have to rely on the New/Alternative media to be informed. There is a common element in the under-reporting and or no coverage of these stories. The commonality is the Cowles Co and its associates. As Spokane veteran KXLY radio icon Mike Fitzsimmons recently observed in his blog:

The long-standing ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership was engineered with good reason. Too much influence over public opinion in any community is unhealthy, and in most U.S. communities, newspapers already have tremendous power to shape public viewpoints. We know firsthand in Spokane about what can happen. The River Park Square story in Spokane, was deliberately and unethically under-reported by the Spokesman Review and one television station in our community, to protect the family that owned the mall and the media outlets. Imagine what might have been possible had this local media powerhouse controlled many more sources. The public might not have learned about this fiasco at all.

And as I confirmed in a recent meeting with Steve Herling the General Manager of KXLY, they were not on the Cowles Co “buy list” when former KXLY Reporter Tom Grant was doing reporting on RPS. They were taking a significant hit in lost ad revenue. This was contained in a past email sent by Mr. Herling. Mr. Herling did say he was able to replace this lost ad revenue and that he did not feel pressured to remove Tom Grant. Mr. Herling said he didn’t consider this fair, but the Cowles Co was free to place its ads where it pleased just as he could refuse to run ads:

From: Steve Herling
Sent: Monday, May 14, 2001 2:34 PM
Subject: Re: Tom Grant

We do not agree with that assessment. RiverPark Square alone is testament to our ability to forgo ad dollars for truth. We have been off their “buy” list for over 2 years costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars because we supported the reporting, whether Tom Grant or any of our staff (yes there were other of our reporters on RPS than Tom). We never have shied from the truth for dollars and we’ve proven it. We have reported negative news about car dealers and taken the hit….Tom simply is uninformed about our busniness practices. We only spent $3,000 on the personal grooming consultant (TV is a visual medium and we want our people to look their best) not the $10,000. And that expenditure took nothing away from our journalism budget. We hope to have an exciting announcement soon of a replacement for Tom. It does make a difference to me if you watch. Remember KREM, KAYU and KHQ are getting all of the RiverPark Square advertising budget. If I lose you too I have really been penalized for doing the “right” thing.

You Sir, are in check again. I’m afraid your time is now limited as checkmate nears. In Alice’s world, Through the Looking Glass, or in the world of The Wizard of Oz, you have been unmasked either as the “Red Queen” or as the “little man” behind the curtain shouting in the megaphone. You Sir, are nothing more than a schoolyard bully tolerated by your handlers but I feel you are now more of a liability than an asset in protecting the family jewels.


Det. Ron Wright (Retired)
Riverside PD, CA


Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, County of Spokane, WA
Mayor Mary Verner, City of Spokane, WA
City Council, City of Spokane, WA
US Attorney Jeffrey C. Sullivan, Western District of Washington, Seattle, WA
Agent Frank Harvill, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Spokane, WA
Sgt. Ken Wade, Washington State Patrol, Spokane, WA
Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, City of Spokane, WA
Acting City Attorney Pat Dalton, City of Spokane, WA