Second of two parts
(Part 1: Seattle's legacy of crooked cops)
The Lifeline Club raid yielded boxes of potentially incriminating records, and the mayor had fired Police Chief Frank Ramon over evidence of corruption throughout the ranks. The feds, meanwhile, were busily harvesting the fruits of the raid. Doug McBroom, now a Superior Court judge, was then a young federal prosecutor trying to investigate the payoffs. "There was bingo all over town, and it was legal if they were benefitting a church or charity," McBroom recalls. "They were frequented by retirees, a major social thing. The Lifeline Club was the biggest, and they had to have that charitable hook, so they passed along 10 bucks a week to a church. But the money was unbelievable, thousands of dollars a night. And the vice squad was being paid off bigtime to keep it going."
Since the feds couldn't count on King County Prosecutor Charles O. Carroll, who was implicated in the corruption, Seattle Police Department Assistant Chief Tony Gustin and his allies needed to make it a federal case. The club records provided that, as well.
"They were using beans to cover the numbers on the bingo cards," McBroom says. "Can you imagine running a game worth thousands a night, and they're using beans? But Charlie Berger had found this company in Colorado that makes bingo cards with little shutters. So they mailed off and ordered up a bunch of those cards."
Bingo. The Lifeline Club was doing interstate commerce. The new U.S. attorney, Stan Pitkin, launched a full-scale investigation, calling witnesses to testify before a grand jury. For weeks, newspaper and TV reporters haunted the hallways of the old marble courthouse, trying to track the comings and goings of police commanders, beat cops, nightclub operators, and city officials, some of whom were secreted in and out of the basement in a rusty, nondescript van.
In February, 1970, the first federal indictments came down, charging Frank Colacurcio, Berger, who ran the Lifeline Club, and several cops with conspiracy to use interstate commerce to run the gambling business. Eventually, Berger cooperated with the feds, testifying that he believed that Colacurcio's police contacts had the power to close down his operation. Colacurcio was convicted and went to jail.
Buzz Cook, the assistant chief who had served on the mayor's blue-ribbon panel two years earlier, was indicted by the federal grand jury for perjury; he had testified under oath that he knew nothing about the payoff system. That summer, Cook went on trial at the old federal courthouse — the first public airing of the Tolerance Policy. Within days, more than 100 past and present Seattle cops were implicated in open court.
"I think the city was surprised by what they were seeing," McBroom recalls. "Police corruption was supposed to happen in Chicago and New York, not Seattle."
Still, despite the growing investigations, Charles O. Carroll maintained his grip on the courthouse. There were obvious doubts whether the prosecutor would or could investigate his own system. One by one, local civic groups and newspapers called for a county grand jury to investigate.
Early in 1970, a group of young Republicans began talking about a challenge to Carroll, and they anointed Chris Bayley their candidate. He had good party connections, deep Seattle roots, a Harvard Law degree, and a cadre of support. In June, Bayley decided to pay a courtesy call to the prosecutor.
"I was ushered into his enormous conference room with the big, leather couch that had supposedly been Warren Magnuson's," Bayley recalls, referring to the legendary Washington senator. "Carroll was sitting at one end of that long conference table, flanked by the chairman of the party and Bill Boeing, sort of like the Holy Trinity."
Bayley admits to feeling a bit intimidated by the scene. He's a smart fellow but has none of Gustin's physical bearing or macho. He used the deepest voice he could conjure up to explain: "Well, some of us think it's time for new blood."
"Carroll huffed: 'Do you understand how tough this job is?' And the power guys nodded. There was just a disbelief that anybody could take him out."
Bayley ran anyway, and won. The czar had fallen.
When he arrived to take the office, Carroll's files had been cleaned out. But there were loose wires under the boss's desk — remnants, Bayley believes, of a recording system similar to that which eventually help bring down Richard Nixon's presidency.
Bayley's first task was clear. While the city was finally aware of the Tolerance Policy and payoffs, the young lawyers knew few details — certainly nothing on which to base any charges. So the new prosecutor began preparing for the grand jury inquiry he had promised, recruiting a cadre of young lawyers who moved across the street to the 29th floor of the Smith Tower. There they began trying to locate and sway witnesses — cops, tavern operators, gamblers, anybody who could help them penetrate the network. Convincing witnesses to cooperate was tough. Even honest cops were reluctant, or downright terrified, to testify against fellow cops. Tavern owners feared turning on cops who had the power to close them down.
Former prosecutors recall driving the streets with witnesses in the back seat, coats pulled over their heads, nervously pointing out who did what and where.
"We were told we were under police surveillance, so we couldn't talk to people in the office," recalls Evan Schwab, a Seattle lawyer who was recruited by Bayley. "I talked to one guy in the woods on Vashon Island. And I remember interviewing a police major who was in uniform, wearing his gun, and sweating heavily."
On April 12, 1971 — more than four years after the initial press reports — a 17-member grand jury was seated by Judge Stanley Soderland while a throng of reporters and TV news crews clustered outside in the drab, gray-marble hallway. Even though reporters were barred from the courtroom, the supposedly secret proceedings dominated the local news for weeks. By early summer, more than 100 past or present cops had been implicated, some of them for bribes dating back as far as 1936.
As the system unfolded, prosecutors were impressed by its tidiness. "In time, we could predict how much a guy was making, based on where he was working and how long he'd been there," says Dave Boerner, who was Bayley's chief deputy.
"It sort of ran itself," Boerner says. "It required agreement by a lot of individuals — the prosecutor, the police chief, the sheriff. But it was all understood. That's the way the world worked."
As the testimony spilled, Seattle police nervously watched from across the street. At times, detectives sat in the courtroom, taking notes.
Nobody was sure what they were doing with the information. There were rumors of retaliation. Pinball king Ben Cichy had drowned mysteriously in five feet of water next to his Lake Washington home in 1969. At least one other drowning death was rumored, but never proved, to be linked to the scandal. "Drowning was the method of choice," says Dee Norton, who covered the scandals for The Seattle Times. "As we understood it, they'd put somebody face down in the water and then plant a foot on their back."
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