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Washington State
Lawmaker's Scandal Displays Spokane's Sordid Side

Washington State
Lawmaker's Scandal Displays Spokane's Sordid Side

The resignation 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.

The resignation 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.

Former state 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.

Castagna, 26, 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.

Curtis resigned in October, soon after the reports were released.

Police theorized 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.''

Castagna has 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 extortion.

Fletcher is 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.

Castagna's 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 attempt.

Curtis is 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)

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