Special Reports

FBI checking tips on city

The FBI acknowledged Thursday that investigators are looking into possible public corruption in the City of Tacoma as part of a broad investigation that began with the David Brame shootings.

Special Agent Mark Ferbrache said agents with the bureau's public corruption squad are following up on an increasing volume of tips and leads flowing into his office as fallout from the Brame case.

Some of them didn't lead anywhere; others are still being checked out. He wouldn't talk about specific charges or targets of the agency's investigation.

"It's pretty broad," Ferbrache said. "It doesn't just stop at the city limits of Tacoma."

In this investigation, the FBI squad is interested only in public corruption, a term broadly defined as any time public officials - elected or not - abuse their position for personal gain, he said.

Much of the information comes from the Washington State Patrol, which is wrapping up its investigation of the Brame shootings. The FBI also is hearing from other sources, Ferbrache said.

Brame, Tacoma's police chief, fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and then killed himself April 26 during a contentious divorce that included allegations of domestic violence.

The shootings triggered a series of investigations looking into everything from how Brame was initially hired as a police officer in 1981 to how he was promoted to the chief job in 2001.

The fallout cost City Manager Ray Corpuz his job. The City Council fired him in July amid questions of how Corpuz chose Brame for the chief job despite a 1988 date-rape allegation against Brame that resulted in an Internal Affairs investigation.

The State Patrol is nearly done with its four-month investigation, Capt. Glenn Cramer said Thursday. The detectives have been sent home and the case is expected to be forwarded to the state Attorney General's Office in the next two weeks.

State Patrol officials declined to comment on the details of what the detectives uncovered.

Three City Council members said Thursday they were surprised by media reports that the State Patrol was handing information from investigators over to the FBI, and said they had no inkling - or warning - about what that might be.

"I don't know where they're getting their information, because we haven't gotten any reports at all," Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg said. "Reading news of an investigation in the paper is not an appropriate way of doing things at all."

Ladenburg said she wouldn't have been surprised had investigators asked what she knew about the Brame case, "but some of this other stuff is really surprising to me, because I didn't have the slightest indication that they were reviewing anything other than the Brame incident."

"We don't want corruption in Tacoma," Ladenburg said. "But how can we make corrections unless we know what needs to be fixed?"

Councilman Doug Miller said he hasn't talked to anyone from the FBI and he doesn't recall speaking to anyone from the State Patrol.

He said he did talk to some investigators about allegations that police officer Pat Frantz sent a threatening e-mail to Internet publisher John Hathaway after the Brame shootings.

Frantz was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.

"At this point the city is relying on the Washington State Patrol and the FBI to conduct appropriate investigations, and I would hesitate to speculate on what those investigations have uncovered," Miller said. "We've been trying to cooperate as fully as we possibly can."

City Manager Jim Walton said the city is relying on the State Patrol and the FBI to "conduct the appropriate investigations. We will not speculate about what those agencies may or may not have discovered."

Walton said he has not been interviewed by investigators from either the State Patrol or the FBI and he doesn't know whether members of the city manager's staff have been talked to.

The city is in no way officially involved in the investigations, Walton said, though he has told city employees to cooperate with investigators.

State auditors are working on Tacoma's annual audit right now, said Auditor Brian Sonntag. Though state audits normally focus primarily on a city's financial dealings, other issues can be investigated if they're important, he added.

Sonntag said he hasn't heard from the State Patrol or the FBI regarding the Tacoma investigation, but is prepared to help if he can. He said he's particularly interested in any information they can give him that would help his auditors.

"We're going to be able have access to more information because they're looking in places that auditors don't," Sonntag said. "They could point us to things that an audit wouldn't normally reveal."

Sonntag said he will meet next week with his Tacoma audit team and fraud investigator "to get a good landscape and see who we should communicate with."

As part of its investigation into the Brame shootings, the State Patrol was asked to look into potential criminal misconduct by assistant police chief Catherine Woodard and her involvement in Brame's divorce.

Woodard, who was named acting police chief in the hours after the shootings, was placed on administrative leave May 1.

That day, Corpuz asked the State Patrol to investigate Woodard's actions April 11 when she accompanied Brame to pick up his children at Crystal Brame's parents' home in a gated community in Gig Harbor.

Crystal Brame called 911 and told a dispatcher Woodard had intimidated and threatened her in the past. Crystal Brame also said her husband and Woodard got into the gated community under "false pretenses."

As State Patrol investigators came across information they believed might be of interest to the FBI, they passed it along, Ferbrache said.

The public is asked to do the same, he said. Anyone with a tip concerning corruption anywhere in Western Washington can call the FBI in Seattle at 206-622-0460 and ask for the white collar and public corruption squad.

"I want the public to know who to call," Ferbrache said. "I'm the new sheriff in town."

Jason Hagey: 253-597-8542

jason.hagey@mail.tribnet.com

Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268

stacey.mulick@mail.tribnet.com

Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659

kris.sherman@mail.tribnet.com

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