15753 SE RENTON- ISSAQUAH ROAD
RENTON, WASHINGTON 98059
RON EWART (research and editing)
4451 308th Ave. S. E.
Fall City, WA 98024
May 12, 2005
TO THE HONORABLE
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY
DISTRICT OF WESTERN WASHINGTON
cc: FBI, Seattle Office
IN RE: COMPLAINT OF CRIMINAL (RACKETERING) ENTERPRISE
I am a retired Seattle Police Officer with 23 years of criminal investigation experience. By means of this letter I bring to your attention a clear pattern and practice of extortion and fraud being inflicted upon some Citizens of King County Washington by elements of King County Government. A summary of these allegations follows:
A. King County Department of Development and Environmental Services. (DDES)
1. A consistent pattern of over charging and duplication of fees for permits of all kinds.
2. Arbitrary and capricious actions in code enforcement: Piling on spurious code enforcement allegations and excessive penalties in addition to a pattern of intimidation and harassment of landowners, either in related permit applications, or by concoction of more imagined code violations through "anonymous complaints".
3. Purposely hiding pertinent files in code enforcement actions or during appeals.
4. Denying citizens due process as required by the several Amendments to the U. S. Constitution.
B. King County Water and Land Services Department (WLSD)
1. Imposing fees on property owners and then not using those fees for the intended purpose. Rather than those fees (over $200,000,000 since the fee was imposed) being used for their lawful purposes, said fees have been diverted to build a huge staff, initiate needless studies and buy capital equipment.
C. King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks (DNRP)
The printing and distribution of material clearly designed to promote and propagandize specific land use ordinances as an advocate piece, without proper disclosures and with clear distortions and misrepresentations of fact. This effort had the clear purpose of discouraging public challenge of the Critical Areas Ordinance.
D. Fraudulent expenditure of federal funds to build salmon restoration devices in streams and seasonal creeks that have no possibility of ever bearing salmon.
E. Consistent abuse of Freedom of Information and Public Disclosure Act requests. King County has already been sued for these violations and had to pay out over $100,000 in penalties. One particular case is still open and the County could be obligated to even greater penalties, all of which come out of the taxpayer's pocket and caused by government legislators to cover up negligence, mismanagement and outright fraud, waste and abuse.
F. Attached as Addendum. Governmental misconduct in the acquisition and subsequent planning-related activities pursuant to construction of an Interim East Lake Sammamish Trail. King County acquired control over an abandoned railroad right-of-way under provisions of a federal rails-to-trails law, and has been bent on building the cheapest possible trail through wetlands and the middle of people’s yards, ignoring its own policies and codes in the process. Numerous, documentable, unscrupulous tactics have been employed in this effort to reap the political windfall that this trail represents.
Certain employees of the Executive Branch, currently headed by Mr. Ron Sims, King County Executive, have been misusing and are continuing to misuse the Code Enforcement Process and the Property Use Permitting Process to create and enforce certain actions against random property owners with the clear and, in fact, admitted purpose of obtaining monies from said property owners to further the existence and goals of their employing entity, the King County Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES), and its subsidiaries. The clear benefit derived for these employees is continuing employment to a degree not otherwise possible; absent such "revenue generation"... they face unemployment. The results of this draconian situation were predictable.
This writer and all other signatories to this letter recognize that government does have authority to regulate (within lawful confines) the use and other enjoyment of private property for the common good. In furtherance of the common good, government can create lawful regulations of such use, and penalize, in due course and process, those who may violate such regulation(s). The exercise of "eminent domain" by Government for legitimate public purpose is also recognized.
Note here, that we all value the quality of the environment and pride ourselves on our stewardship of our land. We support regulation genuinely designed to protect our natural assets, and any code enforcement that is intended to abate clear and present threat to public health or safety or natural amenities, that does not violate constitutional protections.
The nature of that regulation and enforcement is often contentious, and we are all dedicated to responsible interaction with local Government to maintain the proper balance. We have formed groups that systematically challenge and otherwise seek to influence the course of this public business. As well as promoting environmental quality, and cooperation with Government where appropriate, we also emphasize observance of rights against uncompensated takings, or capricious limitation on property and its use. We accept this responsibility willingly; it is part of the perpetual challenge to property ownership. Nowhere is this better illustrated than our current showdown with King County, Mr. Sims et al, over the so-called CRITICAL AREAS ORDINANCE. This one will have us all in the Courts for some time to come.
This is not an ad hominem attack on Mr. Sims or other current King County employees at the outset. This abuse predates the current King County Administration. That is not to say that evidence may not be discovered in time that points an investigation in the direction of certain individuals, including current officers or employees of King County. Those cards will fall where they may. Our purpose more specifically is to quiet this institutionalized abuse once and for all.
With our respect for the legitimate exercise of government thus stated, however, we here definitively restate our rejection of any proposition, de jure or de facto, that government may utilize the regulatory or any other process to further destructive or unlawful ends. That King County has embarked on such a program is all too apparent to many citizens in the rural area of the County. Their purpose is equally clear and publicly acknowledged. They seek to restrict use and prevent development of private property. Their stated purpose is to "protect the environment"… the law, and property owners, be damned!! No matter how they may attempt to sanctify their endeavor, however, the basic protections citizens possess cannot be sacrificed.
The abuses we have chronicled and report herein have, as their common denominator, violation of one or more fundamental protections against self-incrimination, freedom from unlawful search, and equal protection. These abuses embody the sort of malfeasance and intrusion by Government, anticipated by the Founders, and thus specifically proscribed by the original amendments (refinements, if you will) to our Constitution. A pattern of these violations so chronic to this agency, leaves no question that concerted related action… conspiracy… by DDES employees is afoot.
We will here define the nature of these abuses without attempting to detail all the many cases we have studied. We will instead outline the substance of the several patterns these cases establish with an offer of proof that should compel a determined response from your office. We can tell you that lawsuits seeking civil remedy of these abuses are being contemplated by individuals in this County, and should provide recovery of damages for some. Some of these lawsuits are already in the Court.
However it is the conviction of all of us that this pattern and practice of abuse by King County is an ongoing criminal racketeering enterprise and merits aggressive prosecution by the Federal Government.
, as well. Thus our request that your office promptly and aggressively investigate!
The most aggravating factor in this scenario is the publicly acknowledged fact that this branch of King County government relies for its very existence on the generation of fees, penalties and other arbitrary economic return. Mr. Sims, in a statement published in local newspapers just a few years back, reaffirmed that "code enforcement" was the means of revenue for much of DDES... that the operation was not otherwise funded in the budget. Predictably, very aggressive enforcement follows this sort of absurdity. Imagine the abuse that would result if, for instance, traffic police officers were told there would be no paycheck unless they wrote every imaginable infraction. What wasn’t seen... could be quickly conjured. Connection of one’s employment to enforcement revenues is an absolute formula for malfeasance.
This naturally has led to unsavory practices that, considered in their true light, lead to an inescapable conclusion: some employees of King County, Washington, are engaged in a pattern and practice to extort money from citizens of the County. These employees have and continue to conspire to violate the Civil Rights of said citizens to enable the enforcement of "code violation" cases and the creation of various schemes to unlawfully inflate the expenses inflicted upon citizens in the course of plan and permit review in cases where property development or improvement are sought.
FIRST CAUSE OF CONCERN: CODE ENFORCEMENT ABUSE
Most, if not all, of the abuses we have chronicled in "Code Enforcement" stem from cases where the alleged offenses are very minor and arcane. These are the "technical fouls" that can be heaped on folks who in many cases do not even know that circumstances that may exist on their property are "violations." Often the circumstances exist benignly and without notice for years before being "outlawed" by new Code sections and "discovery" by some predatory Code Enforcer. Protection against ex post facto contrivances in the King County Code are virtually non-existent.
Often spurious allegations are heaped on simple cases that may actually involve some minor violation to create a juggernaut that brings even able citizens to their knees. Case studies indicate that this tactic is often used on elderly or disabled folk who are already living at their wit’s end. False statements in official files are common to this abuse.
Significantly, when these abuses are challenged by supportive community members or groups, or by attorneys that have been retained, the bulk of the complaint will often quickly disappear. Attorneys we have consulted are familiar with this tactic and agree that this sudden evaporation illustrates how baseless many of these citations are to begin with. In many cases, folks are told by attorneys that the complaints are improper, but advised to make a settlement offer since defending the matter will be too costly.
County employees clearly take advantage of this predicament and have refined the calculus to attempt to keep most files out of the appeal process. For the moment, let us say of this practice that we believe it involves ipso facto, the falsification of official records to the degree that false or contrived complaints are made part of the file used to intimidate citizens to forego appeal and comply with this extortive practice.
The assembly of these abusive cases begins with common means by the several Code Enforcers who have their marching orders as chronicled above… get out there and generate fines…or there may be no employment!! Citizens may find Code Enforcers at their door announcing that some complaint or other has been received (virtually always anonymous) about conditions on the citizens’ property. These "complaints" may or may not pertain to circumstances in plain view from the public right-of-way. Very often they do not.
Citizens are typically then questioned about the alleged circumstances and the Code enforcers always ask to have a "look" at whatever may be in question… an old car or two… a pile of old lumber… or any combination of items that usually give rise to mere esthetic concerns… and very often only to one or two neighbors at most. In none of the cases we have investigated has any target citizen been advised of their Fourth or Fifth Amendment rights at the outset. Unwitting, and usually intimidated, citizens invariably accede to these "requests," and a de facto search of the property is then conducted by the Code enforcers.
In the great majority of cases not only are the initial issues (complained of by whatever "anonymous" sources) confirmed… additional "violations" are cited and then the extortion begins. Citizens are informed by ensuing letter that they "have been found to be the person responsible" for violations of some and several sections of the King County Code. They are ordered to correct matters to the Code Enforcer’s satisfaction or face what are absolutely exorbitant fines and penalties. These initial "findings" are arrived at without any hearing or other process. They are "adjudicated" in absentia at the whim of the Code Enforcers and only then is any even marginal due process offered… an "appeal" hearing may be had and this is when some citizens (victims) first contact advocates or legal counsel.
And, again, this is where too often the advice is to cave in and seek a "deal," so to speak. Attorneys, as we have said before, will confirm that the enforcement action is improper in whole or in part, but must in all prudence inform the victims that the legal battle will be far more costly than the "deal." It is painfully clear that after the unwitting citizens permit the initial foray onto their property, it will be prohibitive or impossible to undo the harm to their interests. Capitulation usually follows.
The citizens are further informed in this initial barrage that if they fail to respond as ordered they can be charged with a misdemeanor per some section of the criminal code. The premise here is clearly that the citizens are guilty until they can prove their innocence.
This brings us back to the aforementioned Fourth and Fifth… as well as other Constitutional issues. This penal process clearly has, as a mainstay, the threat of criminal (misdemeanor) sanctions against uncooperative citizens. Introduction of this principal most certainly, then, must mandate protection from the onset against unwarranted and/or un-consented searches and unwitting self-incrimination. But this is not the case. Trickery, intimidation and other advantage are employed to con citizens into utterances against interest and/or gain access to homesteads, and then the extortion follows. The hapless victims are told they have no Constitutional protection because the process is "CIVIL" and such rights do not apply. Again, falsified complaints, as well, are not uncommon.
Additional chronic Fourth Amendment violations are found in the common practice of Code Enforcers entering onto private property in the absence of the homeowner, and admittedly without permission, to search for violations under the pretext of "environmental" concerns. Often NO TRESSPASSING signs are blatantly ignored, and Code Enforcers deny any responsibility to observe these lawful postings. Code Enforcers have continued the practice of ignoring trespass warnings even after their managers and a representative of the King County Prosecutor’s office, in concert, reiterated at a recent public meeting that it is unlawful for them to do so.
Then, once on the property, the sky is usually the limit when the Code enforcers identify many marginal or imagined "violations." The victims are then warned that failure to comply will result in penalties that, even if marginally applicable on merit, are so draconian in scope they generate outrage that soon leads to fearful capitulation.
As an example of this petty tyranny, consider the case of a neighbor we will call Joe (not his real name). Joe suffers from two forms of cancer. He is barely mobile and often bedridden. In his front yard he had parked his pleasure boat and a vehicle in need of repair, but perfectly acceptable in appearance. In his back yard were two or three other older vehicles that belong to his son. After entering this secluded back yard without permission or a warrant, the Code Enforcer took pictures that were used to bolster this spurious investigation. Coupled with some other minor complaint, King County sent Joe a penalty notice of $9000.00 for the first month… $300.00 per day for parking violations, if you will, on his own property!!!
Even though his neighbors promptly removed these imagined threats to whatever gods the County worships, King County doubled the fine the next month. It is further noteworthy that the Code Enforcement officer twice brought along several police officers to unwittingly cover her invasion of Joe’s property under the pretext that she was in danger from this highly disabled man. She did at least apologize after the second instance. The harm done to this family’s standing in their neighborhood was hardly undone by this belated and unpublicized gesture. While Police Officers questioned Joe’s son about a minor problem, the Code Enforcement officer sneaked into the fenced back yard and took the photos mentioned above.
This charade… bringing the Police along… has the predictable effect of intimidating the citizen even further. And most respectable citizens conclude that if the Police are present, the Code Enforcement officers must be acting lawfully. In Joe’s case, one Police Officer was unwittingly enlisted to help unlawfully enter a storage container in the back yard. Police Commanders we have approached are beginning to have second thoughts about such Police presence. Hopefully, better guidelines are emerging… but much damage has been done.
Another modus of Code Enforcement fraud has to do with filing of fraudulent liens on the homesteads of persons accused of "code violations". In such cases the accused have successfully appealed the initial complaint to the County Hearing Examiner who rules against the County and effectively terminates the cause of action at that point. Rather than move for reconsideration or file a criminal complaint in a higher jurisdiction, King County subtly waits a convenient period of time and assesses penalties as if the Hearing Process had never taken place. The victim citizen first learns of this when they receive a "NOTICE OF LIEN" by mail. This fraudulent encumbrance of title to a homestead is a clear violation of the Washington State Criminal Code (Sec. 9. 38. 020) and yet is practiced with impunity. It raises due process issues and further advances the argument that a conspiracy is afoot.
A final example of tampering with Official Documents is the mysterious "disappearance" from DDES files of permit applications and other critical documents. This ploy is used to suggest that citizens have failed to initiate corrective action or refused to comply with permit requirements in a timely manner. Fines and other penalties soon accrue…and again the hapless victim is left to prove their innocence. Fortunately many have kept copies…but even then the chicanery continues. DDES sometimes still seeks to penalize the applicants or deny previously promised conditions.
In a recent decision (circa 1996), the United States Supreme Court ruled that civil penalties that are excessive to any showing of actual harm to a public interest are subject to Eighth Amendment sanctions. King County pretends to be ignorant of these constraints. The outrageous penalties regularly inflicted upon citizens of the County are in each instance thus unlawful…and taken in concert further illustrate the pattern and practice of civil rights violations by the County to advance their "racketeering enterprise"! In one recent appeal a King County Superior Court Judge pointedly remarked to a King County Deputy Prosecutor that the penalties in the case clearly appeared excessive. An offer to negotiate the amounts and even exclude certain citations that were clearly falsified was immediately tendered by the Deputy Prosecutor. The matter is pending.
As a further indication of the conspiracy, conflict of interest and abuse of power in DDES, we have found that the Director, Mrs. Stephanie Warden, is a frequent and significant political contributor to the County Executive, Ron Sims, who hired her, as well as the most of the seven Democrat Members on the King County Council, as well as Seattle Democrat Council Members or Mayor.
SECOND CAUSE OF CONCERN: PERMIT PROCESS FRAUD
The other prime modus for fraud and extortion by King County is the permit process required of property owners/developers. Already literally the most onerous in the Country, King County has set the stage for even more egregious abuse of folks who may seek to improve private property in the County with passage of a new "Critical Areas Ordinance." Not only are fees and penalties excessive on their face, in virtually every case the hapless owner/developer will find duplication of fees by chicanery in the permit process language and processing. Portions of the new Critical Areas Ordinance now faces a lawsuit brought by the Pacific Legal Foundation which alleges that portions of said ordinances are clearly unconstitutional on their face.
Inflation of figures for time invested by King County employees in plan review and site inspection is but one of the many means of fraud in this process. Here again County staff is under orders to "bill" at least six hours every working day and this is a clear incentive to abuse. In addition, state law forbidding any public employee from inflating or duplicating official fees of any sort is regularly violated by clever manipulation of permit line item language.
This entire modus of abuse is currently in the Court and designated "class action" status in an action under Case Number 03-2-05287-4, (Snohomish County). This action was filed in the Superior Court of Snohomish County for a group of King County plaintiffs, because the King County Prosecutor is the regular defender of these questionable practices and is compensated from these ill-gotten funds, and thus a potential defendant as well. A memorandum from that case file, submitted by Counsel for the Plaintiff’s is included with this letter.
The facts related therein are a compelling picture of the arrogance of agents of King County in advancing their racketeering. From the depositions of King County Executive, Ron Sims, Ms. Stephanie Warden Director of King County D.D.E.S. and others quoted in this memorandum, the pattern and practice of ignoring State law that prohibits using any official permitting process to charge applicants fees in excess of those necessary to provide the requested service is manifest. All this is clearly unlawful (RCW 82.02.020). Both Executive Mr. Sims and Ms. Warden plead "ignorance of the law" seeking to avoid responsibility for the spurious practice they have utilized to build an illegal "slush fund" in the millions of dollars.
Here again the overriding pattern and practice is inarguable and consistent with the previously cited application of outrageous penalties in Code Enforcement, which is also under the direct authority of Sims and Warden. Other agents of King County, also quoted in the memorandum, either feign similar ignorance, or appear to be unwitting co-conspirators.
One typical example of the fraud/overcharging in this process is commonly found in such files. A developer/builder applies for a permit to begin some site preparation or construction and is presented with a bill that specifies amounts for certain aspects or stages of the project… such as plan application… grading… drainage management… or site inspection… by County staff. Historically those fees covered the activity or service then permitted or delivered by the County.
In recent times the spurious practice of duplication of these costs to the applicant has emerged in not so subtle, even blatant, fashion. After paying the "fees," the applicant soon finds, upon proceeding with the project, that they will be charged for "file management", or "site inspection", or billing inquiries, or a special overseer will be assigned at an additional hourly rate that sometimes dwarfs the initial fee that historically covered these matters. Protest often leads to threats of delays or even greater costs to the project. In such endeavors… where time is money… again, capitulation is often the outcome.
THIRD CAUSE OF CONCERN: DIVERSION OF TAX REVENUES
Some years back, King County began collecting a "SURFACE WATER MANAGEMENT FEE" with the stated purpose of flood relief for various areas of King County. To date over two hundred million dollars has been collected with only a small portion going to any real effort at flood control. Some records indicate that at least 80% of the funds
Over one hundred million has have gone to staff and facility featherbedding in what we believe is a violation of Washington State law.
FOURTH CAUSE OF CONCERN: FALSE CIVIL CLAIMS
In recent years Federal funding (ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT) has been available for certain salmon habitat creation/restoration. King County has completed several projects that we believe were funded under this Federal Act because they are said to be on streams or waterways that are salmon bearing, although this is clearly not the case. Very substantial sums may have been gotten from the Federal Treasury under such false pretense. We offer as an example a fish ladder/box culvert built, we believe, with Federal Endangered Species Act money. Not only have there never been salmon in this stream, it runs dry six months of the year!! Locals call it the "fish ladder to nowhere"!! It is located in the 16100 blk of S.E. 116th Street in King County. It bears a painted project logo…"ESA 103"…which is apparently a reference to the Endangered Species Act.
One of the most critical means for the Citizenry to monitor Government conduct is the Washington State Public Disclosure Act, which compels government to be promptly forthcoming with all documents that bear on any question raised by Citizens about Government activity. King County is guilty of most egregious abuse of this law…cases have been decided in the County Courts finding the County in violation of the Act…yet the abuses continue. One can imagine no other purpose for this obfuscation than concealment of illegal conduct by agents of the County.
We reiterate here that private actions in the Court will originate… in fact some already have… to bring relief to those who are able. But it is a harsh fact that actions related to property issues cannot be elevated to class action, thus leaving those who cannot afford individual efforts at the mercy of this pernicious governmental abuse. That is unacceptable.
All the more reason this racketeering must be investigated and exposed for what it is, and an end put to it. Therefore we undersigned Citizens of King County Washington challenge you to meet your responsibility to the public and act promptly.