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FBI investigates Spokane's recently outed mayor

FBI investigates Spokane's recently outed mayor

The FBI has begun an inquiry into the conduct of Spokane, Wash., mayor James E. West, the second probe into whether he offered city jobs to young men he met in a gay chat room in exchange for sex. The FBI's "public corruption" probe began late last week, assistant U.S. attorney Thomas O. Rice told The Spokesman-Review on Tuesday as West, 54, a former state senate majority leader, began what he said would be a temporary leave of absence to fight accusations of wrongdoing. "The FBI has opened what's called a 'preliminary inquiry' to determine whether a full-blown investigation should occur," Rice said. "We can assure the public it's being looked at for possible violations of federal law." FBI agents are likely to interview Ryan Oelrich and another man, both 24, who said they were independently offered City Hall jobs after online chats with a man who turned out to be West, the newspaper reported. City attorney Michael F. Connelly previously announced an investigation into claims that West offered internships in exchange for sex and into the use of West's City Hall computer. In another development, former Spokane mayors John Talbott and Sheri Barnard joined the list of those urging West to resign, after the newspaper published reports accusing West of molesting two boys decades ago, when he was a Boy Scout leader and sheriff's deputy, and more recently of offering City Hall internships on the Web site "If Jim West truly loves this city, as he has stated many times, he will resign immediately and seek help," said Barnard, mayor in 1989-1993. "His credibility and trust are gone and can never be regained. Every day he remains in office hurts our city and hurts him." "He has been dishonest with the whole community," said Talbott, who served from 1998 through 2000, when the city switched to a strong-mayor system. "Leadership, to be effective, can't have dark secrets." Earlier calls for West to resign came from city council members Mary Verner and Cherie Rodgers; Democratic state senator Darlene Fairley, who frequently clashed with West in the legislature; and Shaun Cross, a longtime Republican activist and partner in the city's biggest law firm. West is also a Republican. Also seeking his resignation are The Spokesman-Review, which endorsed him in the 2003 election; The Seattle Times; and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a gay advocacy group in Washington, D.C. "If all or any of the allegations of sexual misconduct are true, then the mayor should resign immediately," said Patrick Guerriero, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay political group. Shannon Sullivan has filed paperwork to remove West from office. If a superior court judge finds she has submitted legally sufficient grounds for a recall vote, she would have 180 days to gather at least 12,567 signatures to place it on the municipal ballot. Sullivan pleaded guilty last year to intimidation with a dangerous weapon and was sentenced to a day in jail and a year on probation for a drive-by shooting following a dispute with a friend over some automobile tires. She asserted that should have no effect on the recall petition, which she said has "overwhelming" support. West, a consistent opponent of gay rights who took office in January 2004, last week denied molestation claims by two convicted felons with long histories of drug problems but acknowledged he had visited and had sexual relations with adult men. The statute of limitations has expired on the molestation claims, some contained in depositions for a lawsuit against Spokane County, and no criminal investigations are being conducted in connection with them, law enforcement agencies said. On Tuesday nearly 140 people involved with the city's Task Force on Race Relations received an e-mail from West, cochairman of the panel, in which he branded The Spokesman-Review's coverage as a "brutal outing." Noting that the task force was formed to prevent and combat any "harassment, intimidation, discrimination, and violence," West posed several questions, including, "Does that include people who have an internal struggle with who they are sexually and are searching for a way to come out and are torn by a desire to be out and a fear of what happens if they are?" Oelrich, who is openly gay, said he accepted an appointment to the city's Human Rights Commission in April 2004 after meeting the mayor online at He told the newspaper he resigned in January after West "hounded me for months, telling me I was cute and asking me out on dates." Oelrich said he refused the mayor's advances and knows of "five or six other young gay men that Jim West has met online and offered City Hall jobs." Oelrich told the Associated Press on Tuesday he initially thought West appointed him because of his work as director of the nonprofit Gay Youth Association but soon felt the mayor was more interested in asking him out. He also heard from another young man who had been offered an internship. "I realized it was really the same thing: The mayor was interested in one thing. The only reason he got the position was, he had a pretty face," Oelrich said. "I worried about this happening with other guys." (AP)

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