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Feds end investigation of Spokane mayor, no charges pending
The Associated Press
SPOKANE – The U.S. Justice Department has ended a nine-month public corruption investigation of former Mayor Jim West without bringing criminal charges, officials said Thursday.
The limited investigation found insufficient evidence that West offered paid jobs or internships, in exchange for sex, to men he met in an online chat room, Mark Bartlett, an assistant U.S. attorney from Seattle who served as special prosecutor, told a news conference.
"I am announcing today that the Department of Justice will not be filing criminal charges against Jim West. In addition, we are ending our investigation as of today," Bartlett said in a rare instance of federal officials commenting publicly on an investigation.
The investigation, which included interviews of more than two dozen people as well as forensic examination of the former mayor's city and personal computer contents, found no evidence that West "specifically intended to defraud citizens of their intangible rights for honest service" — the standard for federal criminal charges, Bartlett said.
"We did not attempt to determine whether Jim West should be mayor of Spokane. We did not attempt to judge whether his actions over the past several years were moral or correct," he said.
Nor did the federal probe determine whether state laws were violated, he said.
West told a news conference later Thursday that the FBI investigation had upheld his contention that he committed no crimes and never offered jobs or perks to anyone in exchange for favors.
"I cooperated completely from the beginning," he said.
West was recalled from office in December by 65 percent of the voters. The recall charge alleged he abused his office in making an online job offer in anticipation of sex with someone he thought was an 18-year-old man. West acknowledged mistakes in judgment, but maintained he did not break state or federal laws.
West said he understood why people voted to recall him, blaming "a barrage" of articles in The Spokesman-Review of Spokane.
He called articles contending that he molested children in the past "a lie" and had several testy exchanges with Spokesman-Review reporters who questioned him.
"I did not commit those acts," West said, adding the allegations "cut me to the quick and destroyed my reputation.
"I think The Spokesman-Review owes me a personal apology," West said, reiterating an earlier threat to sue the newspaper "at some point and time."
Carla Savalli, the newspaper's senior editor for local news, said West would not get an apology.
"The newspaper will absolutely not apologize for our coverage. We stand by our reporting," she said. "I don't think the FBI's decision today in any way diminishes our feeling about the work that we've done. It in no way reflects on the quality of our journalism."
West is unemployed and said he was looking for work in the Spokane area. He did not rule out another run for public office, and said he was talking with a radio station about a talk show.
The FBI's inquiry began in May, shortly after The Spokesman-Review published reports that the mayor had offered city appointments and jobs to young gay men he met in an online chat room.
West's office computer was seized, but later returned after the FBI made copies of its contents.
The FBI also searched West's home in July, seizing three computers, and 60 computer disks and other electronic storage media, according to a U.S. District Court search warrant inventory.
Bartlett declined to say whether the case had been brought to a federal grand jury, nor would he say what material was found on West's computers.
An investigator hired by the City Council concluded last November that West violated state law and city computer-use policies.
Bill Etter, a Spokane lawyer who represented West when he appealed the recall to the state Supreme Court, said state and county prosecutors deferred to the FBI early in the investigation, so it is unlikely the former mayor will face state charges.
There was no answer to a call for comment placed to Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker's office after regular business hours Thursday.
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