The Long Con

Anatomy of a Two-Year Undercover Sting and What It Has to Do with Law Enforcement’s Habit of Wasting Large Amounts of Money on Investigating People for Their Social Habits and Political Beliefs


This is just one ridiculously huge face-palm... And doesn't really help my on-the-fence position of SPD...
I have a feeling this is happening in more cities than Seattle.
I wonder what sort of actual services the city could provide for the amount of money that was spent on this bullshit.
Absolutely great and scary read, BK. What a waste of resources...
This kind of stuff is why I read the Stranger, even after moving out of Seattle. Good article.

SPD just can't do a damn thing right lately it seems.
Thriller was awesome
TL;DR, not an interesting topic.
Jesus this is heart breaking. What a waste.
I took a lot of pictures of Free Sheep installations and art shows. I wonder if MY name is in the investigation reports too. We need to start over with a new police force.
Also Brendan, this article pretty much wins as the best thing The Stranger has ever written in my book.
Outstanding and heartbreaking article. Good show, Mr. Kiley.
Detective Rick Hall (listed as one of the cops who accompanied on the trip to Tacoma) is Joint Terrorism Task Force. "Joint" meaning he works for both SPD and the FBI. This is indicative of how different branches of law enforcement nationally are synthesizing to repress social movements in the name of the "war on terror." See also: Fusion Centers and John Towery.…
A beautiful piece
This is why The Stranger is the only Seattle news media I read.
Reads like a missing chapter from 'A Scanner Darkly.' Except more surveillance and deception in response to less significant "crimes."
It really hits home when you think of all the good things that law enforcement could've been doing rather than this kind of wasteful adventurism. Good job Stranger and Mr. Kiley for the investigative journalism.
@15: Yeah, I kept seeing rotoscoped images in my head as I read this.
I'll stand by my opinion that the Seattle Police Department needs a major shakedown before things have any chance of getting better. I had to look at the date on the article to make sure it wasn't something from the 80s, and well before my time here. Nope, it's current.

Officer Bryan should not only not be commended for his work, he and his co-workers on this project should be fired and jailed for all of these tax-wasting, illegal actions. They're looking into activists who find this exact type of thing to be wrong, under the assumption that that's weird, and they're causing more people to think that the police are highly misguided and not worthy of trust. Well, at least they can find more people to look into now.
You know, I take that back. It's the bosses up the line that should be fired.
Mr. Kiley,

Please sign up for rapid human cloning experimentation. We need one of you in *every* city, town, and village in the world. I have not seen a more significant 'who watches the watchers' story in a long... long time.
Brendan, can you get a ballpark estimate of the total monetary cost for this "operation"? You hint at it, but can you come up with a total?
This article is very well researched, but would have benefited from some historical context. There is nothing surprising about the amount of resources the FBI will dump into an investigation of constitutionally protected activities, or its attempt to intimidate people who break the law to turn in "bigger fish" in ways that seem a lot more like entrapment than law enforcement.
Pulitzer Fucking Prize
@7 What. Too long to read? Not interesting? Is a feature where zoo animals listen to a record more your speed?
The FBI sent some undercover guy to a vegan bake sale my friend and I had a while ago. A BAKE SALE. He was a sketchy bald cop-mustached guy with a camera who kept getting in everyone's faces and taking photos of them, and trying to get everyone to talk about ELF and asking us how we knew some of the people mentioned in this article and a few other local punks. We all thought he was just an insane homeless man who somehow found an expensive camera, but afterwards we figured out that the SPD or FBI had actually legitimately thought we were terrorists for selling cupcakes to make money for an animal shelter.

Plus, motherfucker didn't even buy any cupcakes. Fucking cops.
This piece is absolutely incredible and illuminating.
outstanding article. it is beyond totally heartbreaking that THIS is where our money went.
Fucking horrifying. Why can't Rick sue the city entrapment?

This is a great piece, no doubt, but you are high on cocaine and have never read a Pulitzer award-winning piece of journalism if you think it's Pulitzer worthy.

Thank you so much for telling the truth. I hope the world listens.
It is ridiculous, truly absurd, that The Stranger, our local indy weekly, routinely trumps most national media in investigative journalism. This is not where I should have heard about this, but I'm glad I heard about it. Thank you, Mr. Kiley.
Half this article is bullshit. The way this spiraled into other people for simply attending games is overkill, but I don't believe half the poor me quality of Ricks defense.

"Rick likes to think he's a cross between Don King and Rick from Casablanca, but he really isn't," Junior says. "He's just a 38-year-old guy who used to be in a band... but he'll try to show off in front of the jury, and I'm here to keep him from shooting himself in the dick." is dead fucking on. Rick was all about ego, money, and showmanship.

There were more than a few people who knew it was only a matter of time before he got himself caught. Was the amount spent here overkill? Absolutely. Should they have been able to assess the size of the situation earlier? Of course. But this article downplays the situation--he made a living off these games and parties, he showed off the drugs, the guns, the books. If you'd been there you would have seen it had you cared to look.
Here's a pretty good article about the Eric McDavid case, which was referred to in the article. An 18 year old community college student was paid to follow some kids around who she met at the RNC protests (including a 19 year old from Monroe), and she had a very passionate, teenagery demeanor. She talked them into practicing making bombs in a field by her cabin. This was enough to get her boyfriend sentenced to 20 years for conspiracy to commit arson - even though the conspiracy was with her, and she was the one with the plan and target. A group trying to put together a documentary has the FBI surveillance video from her cabin, and the young activists keep making statements telling her to calm down, while she insists they name targets and commit to more action…
Meanwhile, the pussies are shooting and killing innocent Native American woodcarvers etc. just to make themselves feel better. Useless bullies.

And I don't want to hear a damned word about the "good cops". They don't freakin' exist. If you stand idly by and say or do nothing about this, and other examples of their monstrosities, you are equally guilty, if not MORE guilty. Abuse of authority should be punished more harshly, by many orders of magnitude beyond any punishment we would dole out to civilians committing the same crimes. And hey, after a couple of cops got the death penalty etc., I guarantee the rate of such incidences would drop through the floor.

They used to be called "Brownshirts". Now their just called "The Boys In Blue". Ultimately, not much difference between the two besides the color scheme. And then they wonder why they're hated by all....
It would be great to see Marty Scorsese film a quick-cut masterpiece of this story, with a small cash register in the lower left ringing up the money.
@37 If the setting were only NYC, he probably would.
thank you, thank you, thank you
I'm sitting here looking at a painting my wife did of DK a couple years ago. It's on the front of a magazine. All those years we spent socially and financially supporting the Capitol Hill arts culture - makes me realize that it wasn't "if" these creeps crashed our scene, but "when" and how often. Our thing broke up largely when I blew up one night because some people started putting things on meetup and trying to charge money. My point was artistic integrity. But, the way things were going, it makes me realize we absolutely had to have been on their radar. No doubt we're living in a fascist police culture. Maybe it's time to bet back to work
This is probably one of the most thoroughly researched pieces I have EVER read in The Stranger, and I'm not even a fan. I'm guessing the hundreds of man-hours spent investigating this investigation are second only to the hours spent the original investigation. But I bet the Stranger's author didn't get paid as much..(hehhe- slight burn intended). But, I wouldn't be surprised if it was nominated for some type of journalistic award.

Will it die on the vine? With Councilman Licata and Steinbrueck riding the peripheral, it's got potential to do otherwise.

Det Brunt is obviously an excellent undercover cop. Probably one of the best in his region. I'm certain his colleagues would agree. The author would have you believe he is a little "too good". I'm pretty sure he doesn't possess Jedi mind control. These people made choices of their own free will. I'm also fairly certain he didn't enjoy sending some of the guilty to prison. Spending that much time with anybody will undoubtedly create some type of kinship. Bet he couldn't even get that kind of loyalty from his brothers in blue.

You can't really blame him for the direction of this case or man hours spent on the investigation. I'm sure he has little authority in governing the FBI's budget or agenda.

The Stranger lost some credibility by giving up the cops true identity and undercover name. Where's the objectivity? Seems as if you are trying to place the undercover cop in harms way or thwart future undercover operations. Felt a little spiteful. Maybe I'm wrong, but food for thought none the less. If the mainstream media does pick this story up, the cops identity will undoubtedly be side-lined. Has no bearing on the case or story.

I'm sitting here looking at a painting my wife did of DK a couple years ago. It's on the front of a magazine. All those years we spent socially and financially supporting the Capitol Hill arts culture - makes me realize that it wasn't "if" these creeps crashed our scene, but "when" and how often. Our thing broke up largely when I blew up one night because some people started putting things on meetup and trying to charge money. My point was artistic integrity. But, the way things were going, it makes me realize we absolutely had to have been on their radar. No doubt we're living in a fascist police culture.
Got this on the main page of Fark!
Brendan, you're a hell of a writer and journalist. I've yet to read something by you that didn't suck me in and make me think. Keep up the good work!
Great article Brendan, this is indeed happening all over the place.…
Great article Brendan, this is happening all over the place.…
God, great article, great research. I've heard of similar things happening and personally witnessed lesser wastes of police resources (five squad cars and guns drawn for a kid out past his curfew is the best example), but it never ceases to shock me. Moreover, when I hear conservatives harp on 'wasteful governnment spending' without mentioning law enforcement, intelligence and military spending as areas deserving of cuts - it just blows my mind. Last thing, as eager as cops are to bust an underage smoker or drinker, or a guy smoking a joint in his own home playing videogames, I once tried to report credit card fraud and waited for two hours in the police station without anyone so much as taking a report, let alone an investigation. If cops would investigate real crimes and help people the way they're supposed to, our lives would be much improved. Instead, they harass people who pose ZERO threat to anyone. Disgusting.
This is a great article, I'm so glad someone is finally bringing all of this to light and giving Rick a voice - instead of just relying on the Police reports for information. The Seattle police should definitely be held accountable for the waste and harassment/entrapment.
"Former Chicago Tribune reporter Will Potter, author of Green Is the New Red (just published by City Lights), says that after years of looking into these kinds of cases, he's never figured out exactly why the FBI is doing this"

Why would the FBI manufacture a need for their services? Job security. Louder: JOB SECURITY.

Where do I collect my prize?
Possibly the best thing I've read from The Stranger. More like this, please!

Also, I wonder how many people in Cap Hill who went to those parties has been investigated. Kind of scary...
"The guy didn't do anything," he says. "At the worst, he hung around with a group of people who talked tough. In court, Anna actually complained that the group spent too much time hanging around and smoking pot."

Sounds like high school.
Great article. Not at all surprising, though. But well-researched. Reads like a true-life thriller.
A year ago Brendan wrote the amazing piece on Suicide in Seattle, now he writes this incredible investigative piece—I'd say Kiley is easily the best journalist The Stranger, and probably THE CITY, has got.
Great stuff. The good news is bringing Licata and Steinbrueck into the case. They're the ones who can call Chief Diaz and try to get answers. They won't get any, of course, because Diaz is a robot remote-controlled by his men. What a godawful choice that was. And it's sickening to me that these creeps make $120,000 a year for doing this crap.

Here's hoping for a sustained investigation like the one that cleaned out the department in 1970.
Wow, I was in an early FSF show at that location and had no idea. I remember meeting the undercover cop (didn't know at the time) dude, and he seemed overly "bro-ish" and out of place. What a total failure of a sting....and a complete waste of tax money. The spd sucks ass.
Great article. Kiley is really killing it with long form investigative journalism. This article is eerily similar to the recent New Yorker piece about a current Congressman, Michael Grimm, who was an undercover FBI agent. Same shit, spinning crimes out of thin air, spending huge amounts of tax-payer money.
Bravo. Excellent reporting.

It's a well funded culture war, as is obvious from SPD statements. The largely conservative law enforcement agencies, with limitless funds and resources, and bent on picking on the harmless weirdos in their political opposition. This story needs to be told and understood by everyone. Very scary real Police State stuff.
Personally, I have always though Rick was a pompous jackass, but nobody deserves this kind of shit.
"Dude lived parallel lives," he says, and he did it well enough to keep up with a "large, shrewd" roomful of people."

None of whom seem to be featured in this story. Christ, it's like a race to the bottom between these 'shrewd' hipsters and the SPD. What a bunch of muppets on either side.

It's amazing how much trouble you avoid in life by leaving the room whenever cocaine appears, or plans to procure it start to be discussed.
Thank you for a detailed, in-depth article I'll never see anywhere else. Keep it up, Stranger staff. You might be the last real journalists in the country.
As for the subject matter ... Jebus. All I can think of is the closing lines of Burn After Reading:
"What did we learn, Palmer?"
"I don't know, sir."
"I don't fucking know either. I guess we learned not to do it again."
Just amazing.

I wonder how many SPD and FBI officers have gone cruising by Brendan's house since this came out. Since they can't be bothered to go out and do anything actually useful they might as well try to harass their critics.

When Brendan gets back he might want to make sure his brake lights still work, tabs are up to date, etc, or he might find himself pulled over with a lot more regularity.
The one thing I don't understand is how almost all of this isn't entrapment. Bryan says he wants to go burn stuff, Rick actually tries to talk him out of it, and so Bryan...Keeps trying to talk him into it? This is what police do? Pressure people into to commit crimes they ordinarily would have no intention of committing? So are the police going to start following me around now too? Are they going to open files on everyone who leaves a comment? What a waste.
Excellent work, Mr. Kiley. Thanks for this.
Somebody ought to compare the amount of funds spent on this investigation compared to the funds lost to the Urban League scandal. I bet they are comparable. I doubt this one gets full Seattle Times front page treatment though.
"You can't really blame him [SPD detective] for the direction of this case or man hours spent on the investigation. I'm sure he has little authority in governing the FBI's budget or agenda."

I think that's where you're wrong. The detective could have gone to his superiors and the FBI and told the truth that there is nothing big going on there. The most they could have done is roll in and do the petty drug bust and move on. Why would he not do that? Because hanging out with a bunch of weird people drinking and playing cards (while collecting a paycheck) is way more fun than patrolling the streets for car prowlers and muggers.
How many crimes on real people would have been solved or even prevented had all these officers and FBI agents been out working real cases? I understand the way these things are supposed to work, in that they start small and then move up to the big fish, but that's only when you're working a lake and not a fishbowl. These cops and especially the FBI should have realized this was a half gallon fishbowl after the first week.
One part of this generally good piece struck me as woefully shallow: the bit on SPD's claim that Free Sheep was a front. Kiley dismisses this but his only refutation is that Jen Graves wasn't knowingly part of building up that front and that Free Sheep did a lot of good for the Seattle art scene. But Graves' motivation for her piece and whether or not Free Sheep was "interesting and important" in the Seattle art scene isn't relevant at all. The question is, was Free Sheep set up as and/or function as a front?

Prosecutors claim they've got recordings of names like "Don't Arrest Us, Incorporated" and "Legal Front" being jokingly floated before settling on Free Sheep. Did Kiley talk to any of the people recorded? What did they have to say about those jokes? Prosecutors also claim Free Sheep existed not simply to provide plausible deniability, but to launder money. Did Kiley try looking into the finances to see if there was anything to those claims?

The money-laundering allegations are at the top of SPD's list of allegations and they're being strongly echoed by the media, and all Kiley gives us is "but that's just not true"? The lack of depth on that critical point kinda soured me on the whole article.
@55 That investigation had the impetus of a public boogeyman, Frank Colacurcio, behind it. Since he is apparently the only mobster in Seattle's history (the subject is almost comically avoided in recent decades), we're going to have to scare up another scapegoat with which to pubicly taint the SPD.
I don't know that Chief Diaz or the FBI/DEA cabal will fit that bill.
Awesome awesome article. between this and the series on Levamisole and the cocaine trade, it's a wonder some real publication hasn't paid Brendan Kiley some real money to write for them.
Excellent article.
This is literally something out of Catch-22: when somebody fucks up big-time, you give them a medal.
Were they hoping for more? Absolutely. I have to imagine in these types of investigations you don't know where it may lead. In this case it lead to a major drug deal. It would have been nice to get some of those ELF SOBs but it wasn't to be... It's unfortunate we only have the one side of this story: those who were caught, or associated with those caught.
Sounds like SPD has been watching too many shitty 80's cop movies.
@35: Thanks for that amazing link.
They should have just let Rick go. Four years in prison for something he did years ago and that they weren't even investigating? Going to prison is a life-ruining event that makes it almost impossible to get a legitimate job. Why did his lawyer tell him to let the police get him for something just so they could save face? How was that in the interest of his client, when the police clearly didn't have a real case against him?
Thank you for the excellent reporting on this ridiculous case.

Tim Lohraff
This really could go on and on. There are still so many questions. @68, interesting point, though I doubt it's as sinister as it is made to sound. But it would be very interesting to know more. This whole thing is sickening. More more
Wow. Nicely done, Brendan et al.

If we are to trust the 2006 Snohomish County Assessors report, easily found online, we might speculate that Detective Van Brunt is slumming into our mean streets from that lily-white suburb. How quaint. And how reminiscent of the noted racist Officer Steve "social justice iz the enemy" Pomper.

I would feel safer with local cops who know and respect the community that pays their salary. Enough already with the self-serving cowboys.

(And could it be that I'm posting anonymously because I'm paranoid? Yes it could.)
The local authoritays have had it in for Rick since his ¡Tchkung! days.

Behold this fine piece of law enforcement alarmism, in which they describe Rick & crew as a "radical, menacing group."

Unrelatedly, a friend of mine recently had his home burgled and several thousand dollars' worth of electronics were stolen. The SPD officer who showed up to investigate did nothing at all to investigate.

Meanwhile they're making out harmless activists and hippies to be the next terror front. If I've learned anything about cops, it's that they're selling the public a bill of goods: they'll spend untold sums on a two-year undercover investigation into what could just as well be a frat party, they'll paint harmless people with the brush of terrorism, they'll twist an activist's arm to get him involved in crimes he wants nothing to do with, and then they'll parade the arrestees around like the Worst of the Worst, but when real crime happens, they can't be bothered.
hey bren thanks man... sincerely. as the first person to contact you and one of the catalysts for a good bit of this. not to mention one of the co defendants. I must say you did this story the same way and in the same spirit as we did the parties. you brought the motherf**KER. it was never to disrupt or profit. harm or hinder. it was to desperatly try to triage a city whose culture and nightlife and very vitality was no longer tactile and pure to us as it once had been. well played my brother you sir are part of the disfunctional family of sinners
that we are....
you are one of the very few left.
hey bren thanks man... sincerely. as the first person to contact you and one of the catalysts for a good bit of this. not to mention one of the co defendants. I must say you did this story the same way and in the same spirit as we did the parties. you brought the motherf**KER. it was never to disrupt or profit. harm or hinder. it was to desperatly try to triage a city whose culture and nightlife and very vitality was no longer tactile and pure to us as it once had been. well played my brother you sir are part of the disfunctional family of sinners
that we are....
you are one of the very few left.
This reminds me of The Wire, if anyone reading this hasn't seen this HBO series I'd highly recommend, this is a near text book case as far as the feds are concerned. It's like that scene where the local cops want federal help cause their targets might be doing business in other states, and they want to give drug kingpins who have ordered the killing of children less jail time if they can help uncover political corruption. Clearly an exaggeration, but I think the point the writers made is clear. While the real criminals who are killing innocent people for money are out...killing innocent people for money, the feds are more concerned about how they can make their office look better on the TV box. They NEVER throw in the towel, someone's going down for something at some point even if they're innocent, because it's their reputation on the line, they need to justify the waste of resources in any way possible, or they lose their job.

It's like what they did with the Cidital a while back, round up all the drugs and do a nice photo op. It doesn't stop the drugs from being sold, it doesn't stop the crimes from being committed, it doesn't bring to justice anyone who's wronged anyone else, it just created an opportunity for the police to use a single case and say "I told you so, now increase our budget". I used to think police officers actually worked for the betterment of society, and while I understand that there are many who do, this minority of officers who get off entrapping people because of their political beliefs put entire departments to shame. Worst of all? They don't even give a shit, THEY REWARDED THE FAILURE (much like the last scene in The Wire where the newspaper reporter who made up stories gets a medal for his work, while the reporters telling truth get fired), they don't even see themselves as doing a bad job. But those officers who do work for the betterment of society? They'd laugh at the idea of getting a medal, they were "just doing their job, like they've been trained to do". The real heroes in this world will never get the credit they deserve, because of undercover operatives like Brian. Thank you for this piece, and while we can all hope that the FBI will finally LEARN from this mistake, I wouldn't play any bets on it (cause the FBI is likely reading this comment).
I wish this level of effort would be put into stopping the gangs that are taking over our state.
@ 68 I think you're protesting Brendan's unpacking the charges a bit strongly, considering the lack of actual proof in this case. It's very possible he doesn't have much to write about the "money laundering" and other "crimes" because there isn't enough evidence for them. This case was mostly a fraudulent sham, an absolute waste of taxpayer's resources, and a sign that some authorities want to push us around to justify their fat paychecks. But somehow you want these bogus charges to mean something, even if Brendan found little to back them up. Guilty before proven innocent -- which is not how we should feel when dealing with the law in this country. This sort of entrapment is a complete perversion of the system.
Junior/Thoren shut up.
Just for reference, undercover detectives are used as a way to accomplish an investigation. They are not THE investigation. They are directed where to go and who to go after. They do not choose the individuals to investigate or how to investigate them. they aren't even given all the informatoin regarding the investigation. that said, i believe this was a huge over-reach of government power and should not be allowed as individual opinions, popular or not, are what make this country great.
Brendan, did you see Evan Ratliff's piece in The New Yorker last week?
This is so messed up! How does the SPD get away with this crap? Really, spending my taxpayer money so you can hang out and try to convince people to break the law? Have you no conscience? I say fire the whole lot, all the officers and detectives that were involved. Is there a photo of the undercover officer, Bryan? I hope he never works in this city or state or country again! Can we get the hard numbers of how much the city spent on this? How can we make it happen? Who's accountable and who's going follow up with it?
Dear god. It makes me want to become one of those "constitutional" tax protesters just so I don't keep dumping my taxes into useless shit like this while my girlfriend teaching in the CD can't get enough help to teach poor kids math.
Wow. Fascinating article.
This is one for the books. Seattle history being written. Great job Brendan Kiley.
Wow. Brendan you have produced the best journalism I've read in years between this and the levamisole (sp?) articles.

Bravo, Sir.
Hey all. Thanks for the nice comments. I am out of town at the moment, but to answer a few of the questions...

1. Entrapment is a hard case to prove for a variety of reasons. The accused has to prove, among other things, that s/he had no prior inclination towards the crimes being alleged. If you have used or sold drugs, even in small amounts, it's hard to argue that you would NEVER show up to a big drug deal. Even if you wouldn't have.

2. Regarding the Free Sheep/front/money laundering claims, they are so ridiculous and baseless, as far as I can tell, that I didn't get too far into them. I'm very excited to see whether and how the prosecutor's office tries to substantiate the accusations. That should be a gas.

And now I've got a beer and a hammock to attend to.
Probably one of the most interesting, thorough, relevant, insightful, effective, well written pieces of investigative journalism I've read in all my life (and I've always loved reading journalism). Big thumbs up, and also a thank you, I'll be following your work as long as you continue to produce it!
We had a real similar thing happen in Austin. Just go google "Brandon Darby" and read about the kids he put in jail.
Everyone who believes this is a miscarriage of justice and a waste of our taxes should write letters to our congressman, city council, and the SPD. It goes a long way letting them know how we, tax payers and their constituents, feel.
Absolutely phenomenal feature. Woah! I'd put off reading this because the topic didn't initially grab me, but after hearing enough about it from friends, I finally dove in. SO glad to have read it, and so frustrated right now.
Seems like a variation of the stories that regularly come out in national news media. You've probably heard it many times before. First it's reported the FBI busts a dangerous terrorist cell and soon after it turns out the FBI actually manipulated and supported mentally unstable/poor/gullible dupes of middle-eastern ethnicity into carrying out terrorist attacks, even giving them the fake bombs to do it. And people wonder why conspiracy theories and distrust of government are so common and widespread.
Really great feature. Our band Dark State Lines has a song called "Cafe Unamerican". Thought we'd share our take. live video:
Great feature! Our band Dark State Lines has a song called "Cafe Unamerican". Thought we'd share our take. live video:
I can't believe the SPD. "Someone has to go on the cross...," is exactly what I was thinking! The SPD and FBI should all be ashamed of themselves for all the money, time and energy they waste on this small-time gig. I hear/read stories like this all the time. I love how my taxes are paying for this crap and our state is sinking in deficit thanks to these idiots. Hey, let's cut UW's funding, but give it to the SPD to do survallience for years on a small time crook. Yeah. Thanks.