of a conservative politician who claims he was shaken
down by a gay hustler has again exposed the seamy underside
of this ostensibly staid city.
representative Richard Curtis, who went to Spokane,
Wash., in late October for a Republican conference, got
into trouble when he also stopped at an adult
bookstore, picked up a man named Cody Castagna, and
brought him to his hotel room for sex.
later demanded $1,000. Curtis refused to pay and claims
Castagna and his associates tried to blackmail him by
threatening to reveal the married lawmaker's sexual
practices. Witnesses told police that Curtis,
48, was a regular patron of the adult bookstore, liked
to dress in women's lingerie, and was observed having sex in
an upstairs room with a man with a cane.
It was the latest
scandal in a lurid decade for Spokane, an outwardly
conservative city of 200,000 residents about 270 miles east
of liberal Seattle.
Since 2000, the
city has been rocked by a family man who killed 10
prostitutes and had sex with some of their corpses, the
outing of former mayor Jim West as a closeted
homosexual who offered city jobs to young men in
exchange for sex, and the bankruptcy of the Roman Catholic
diocese over lawsuits brought by victims of sexual
abuse by priests.
Curtis is a
married father who voted against gay rights bills in the
legislature while representing suburban Vancouver. He told a
newspaper in his southwest Washington district shortly
after the story broke that sex was not involved in the
alleged extortion attempt, and he claimed he was not
gay. But police reports showed that Curtis told
investigators he had in fact had sex with Castagna.
in October, soon after the reports were released.
that the alleged extortion scheme must also have snared
other prominent men who indulged their private passions
while visiting the city.
But no additional
victims appeared after a public plea from police,
spokeswoman Jennifer DeRuwe said. ''We still believe there
are other victims out there,'' DeRuwe said. ''But
nobody is willing to come forward.''
pleaded innocent to three counts of theft, two counts of
extortion, and one count of conspiracy to commit extortion
for the late October incident. In a separate case, he
admitted stealing $1,700 in winnings from a woman at a
casino near Worley, Ida., last March 2. He has not
been sentenced in that case. He has also been implicated in
a male escort ring in Spokane.
Also charged were
Robert H. Fletcher, 20; Joseph L. Castagna, 25; and
Brandon Burchell, 24. All are charged with second-degree
extortion and conspiracy to commit second-degree
accused of picking up extortion money from Curtis in
exchange for a share of the cash. Joseph Castagna,
Cody Castagna's brother, and Burchell are alleged to
have conspired with Cody Castagna to pick up more
money at a second drop-off.
attorney has contended that his client took money from
Curtis on the spur of the moment after the politician
offered to pay $1,000 for unprotected sex. Authorities
say Castagna began blackmailing Curtis when the
politician reneged on the full payment.
''I don't think
Cody does that,'' attorney David Partovi said, when asked
if Castagna had tried to blackmail others. Partovi declined
a request for an interview with his client.
The city's gay
community has not exactly rushed to Castagna's defense, if
postings on the Internet are a fair indication. Many of the
postings refer to him as a thief and extortionist who
presented a poor picture of gays. Some even expressed
support for Curtis for exposing Castagna's extortion
cooperating with investigators and will not be charged with
soliciting prostitution, prosecutors have said. Curtis will
have to testify if there is a trial, which is set for
April 7, prosecutor Rachel Sterett said.
Bonnie Aspen, a
gay activist in Spokane, said the bigger story is the
large number of gay men who lead closeted lives and are
vulnerable to extortion.
''It's very, very
sad having to deny who you are,'' Aspen said. (AP)