Fire and Fraud in Spokane

IN THE FALL OF 2009, Spokane’s taxpayers were asked to swallow a motherhood and apple pie piece of municipal finance. It was a fire bond levy. Who could be against something as good for you as fire protection?

Just enough people, it turned out, to defeat the bond at the last minute. Right up until the vote, polls showed the measure passing easily. But suddenly naysayers materialized and narrowly killed it at the last minute? Why?

I don’t know, but Bill Jackman, a lieutenant on the Spokane Fire Department, phoned me with his theory.

“I think it was that email you sent around,” he said. “It had to be. We all thought the measure was going to pass easily.”

I circulated the email in question because of information provided to me by Jackman, retired Spokane Airport fireman Rich Magney, and former Pend Oreille County Sheriff Tony Bamonte. All three had become experts on the massive financial corruption embedded in Spokane’s fire service that revolves around the fraudulent billing practices of American Medical Response. AMR is the company that operates Spokane’s ambulances. Lt. Jackman stumbled across AMR’s funny billing while working as an SFD emergency medical technician.

That discovery contributed to a class action law suit against AMR that is still underway. Sheriff Bamonte is one of that suit’s plaintiffs.

During the mayoral administration of Dennis Hession, AMR got caught gouging Spokane’s ambulance users to such an extent, Jackman, Magney and Bamonte had informed me, that the city was entitled to levy fines of $80 million against the company. Instead, Hession fined the company a tenth of a percent of that amount, $80,000.

That outraged Jackman, Magney, Bamonte and others familiar with AMR’s practices, because it signaled the company that its fraud paid handsomely.

(Assuming you needed discouraging, which fine would better discourage you from speeding through, say, a school zone during school hours: $200 or 20¢?)

But not only is the fraud with which AMR infects Spokane’s fire service a fiscal rip-off, it’s a physical killer, note emergency medical technicians Jackman and Magney. They cite a study comparing emergency ambulance services in Seattle and Spokane. The survival rate for “code call” emergencies in Seattle is 45%, they say. In Spokane, it is 8%.

Code calls mean “somebody has just dropped down to the ground, unconscious, not breathing,” explains Magney.

That means Spokane’s citizens are being charged usurious rates for lethal ambulance service.

But that’s not all, Magney told me. The present EMS Levy is needed to preserve the “system status management” of the city’s contract with AMR. This status quo, he says, permits AMR to inadequately staff to handle Spokane’s medical emergencies as they actually occur. Because of that, he says, every time someone calls for an ambulance in Spokane, the first thing that happens is the Spokane Fire Department dispatches SFD paramedics in SFD fire trucks valued at between half-a-million and a million dollars.

The big rigs—“some of them weigh as much as loaded logging trucks,” says Magney—go rumbling through our neighborhoods, sirens often blaring, making a great show of responsiveness. But it’s a fake, says Magney. Because Spokane’s firemen just stand around until inadequately staffed and equipped AMR arrives to care for the patient. Keeping its overhead down really helps AMR’s bottom line, says Magney.

Anyway, this squanders what EMT Magney calls the “golden hour” of survival. This is why Spokane’s medical emergency survival rate is a fraction of Seattle’s, he says.

This is also why we’re wearing out our fire trucks, say Magney and Jackman. And that, say Magney, Jackman and Bamonte, is why the city needs Spokane’s good citizens to plunk down the money for that little item called “Proposition No. 1 City of Spokane EMS—Emergency Medical Services Levy” in the ballot they just received. (Election Day is April 27.)

This is fraud, pure and simple, says Magney. Not only is it unrelated to caring for Spokane’s residents, its purpose is to continue preying on them. The city refuses to investigate this crime, he says. Any reasonably competent criminal investigator would quickly uncover it. It wouldn’t take someone with the credentials of Sheriff Bamonte, he says.

For his part, Bamonte says Spokane’s AMR/EMS fraud is just part of the community’s deeper problem of organized crime involving a small inner circle of “players” and a bigger outer circle of public officials.

“All this stuff is being hidden from the public,” Magney told me.

I find this “stuff” interesting, don’t you? I think you’re entitled to know about it, don’t you?

In the world of journalism—at least my world of journalism—knowledgeable people with information valuable to the public are known as credible sources. So last fall, I shared the perspective of these particular sources with those on my email list. I have a pretty big list, but many of the people on it, I know, maintain lists that dwarf mine. Compare the size of the Sun to the Earth. That’s what we’re talking about.

But that’s not the most interesting part. Many of the recipients of my emails tell me they send some of my stuff around. This is where things get weird, because to understand what that can mean you have to start reaching for astronomical comparisons. Now you have to start comparing the size of the Sun to the size of Antares, the fifteenth brightest star in the sky. (On my computer screen, Antares is the size of the palm of my hand and the Sun, at one pixel, is too small to see.)

Next, to understand leverage in the digital world, you have to compare the size of Antares to the size of  Earth. Mustard seeds and mountains ain’t in it. Google these comparisons to see what I’m talking about. It’s crazy.

It’s crazy because of something that Internet authorities like Columbia University Professor Clay Shirky call “network effects.” (See Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody: http://www.amazon.com/Here-Comes-Everybody-Organizing-Organizations/dp/0143114948/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1271024403&sr=1-1.)

Network effects describe the strange results of many people talking to many other people at the same time. By one account I read, the effective potential size of  networks enabled by the Internet is a network’s square. That means if I have 15 people in my network (I have a few more), the effective potential size is 225: 15×15. And the effective size of that network is 50,625. And the effective size of that network (get out your calculator, this is fun) is 25,628,906.

So, yes, in a way, my 15 friends and I are just two steps away, potentially (everything in life is just potential until we act), from 26 million others.  This is why so many people are having so much fun with “viral media” on the Internet. Check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo.

Plenty of people are saying this is the most important communications revolution since Mr. Guttenberg invented his printing press. My guess: it’s way more important because of that mountain/mustard seed business.

“Hello, Antares? This is Earth. Can you hear me? Well, no it’s just me, Larry. Yeah, the guy whose wife spends all that money feeding the squirrels. What? I don’t know, she just likes them. Can you still hear me?”

So, anyway, I have no idea if Lt. Jackman is right, that my little email last fall led to the defeat of the fire levy. But, if you live in Spokane, you’ve probably seen all those red signs around town asking for you to support Prop 1, this new EMS Levy. The levy is needed, say proponents, to preserve Spokane’s emergency medical services. It’s really needed now, because you didn’t pass the fire levy last fall. That’s their story. And if you don’t pass the EMS Levy, Spokane Fire Chief Bobby Williams has warned, he will have to lay off about a third of the city’s firemen.

Well, what about this levy? People started asking me. I don’t know, I said. I’ll check with my sources.

Is it wise to vote yes?

Rich Magney said he’s not voting for it, because the fiscal emergency requiring it results directly from the River Park Square fraud. If you vote for the levy, he says, you’re just paying the ransom on the public corruption that’s already charging you an arm and leg for lousy service.

Sheriff Bamonte’s not supporting it for the same reason. Last week he filed a complaint with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to initiate a federal grand jury investigation into Spokane’s public corruption. In that complaint—I’ll be reporting on it soon on the Web site below—the ex-sheriff cites 155 exhibits of evidence showing that, among other things, the River Park Square fraud has stolen at least $87 million from Spokane’s taxpayers. That theft, he charges, also led directly to the April 8, 2006, death of a woman in the RPS parking garage. (See “Death by Parking” at www.girlfromhotsprings.com.)

“The easiest way for Spokane to solve its fiscal crisis is to make Betsy Cowles pay back the $87 million her family stole from the city,” said the former sheriff.

Lt. Jackman’s response was the one that surprised me. He told me he was reluctantly supporting the levy.

“What we have in this ballot measure is nothing less than a hostage situation,” he wrote me in an email. “The perpetrators of the past over-billing fraud are using 70-80 innocent, young firefighter jobs as a human shield for their past acts of malfeasance.

“To vote against this levy will only kill the hostages (firefighters) and will have absolutely no effect on the hostage takers (public officials).  The loss of these 70-80 positions will have a drastic negative impact on public safety.  Preventable out-of-hospital deaths will rise with the demise of EMS.”

(You mean Spokane’s ambulance service will get even worse? Yikes!)

Jackman told me that what really sickens him is that the youngest firefighters are the ones who will lose their jobs. “That’s the future of fire protection in Spokane,” he said.

I asked Magney and Bamonte their views on Jackman’s position.

“I think they’re going to lay off those firemen anyway,” said Magney. “The size of the RPS fraud is far too great for this levy to cover.”

Magney agrees with former City Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers that Spokane’s present $10 million budget deficit results directly from the RPS fraud. Mrs. Rodgers has been predicting this “fiscal Armageddon” for five years.

Sheriff Bamonte has the sober attitude that enabled him to solve the nation’s oldest open murder case. He just doesn’t like criminals, public officials or not, policemen or not, media/real estate barons or not. (Read the book about him, Breaking Blue, at http://www.amazon.com/Breaking-Blue-Timothy-Egan/dp/1570614296/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1271082771&sr=1-1.)

Bamonte’s developing class action and civil RICO litigation to recover the fraud. Loss of firefighter positions will document citizen losses caused by the fraud, he says.

“I intend to legally pursue every public official complicit in this fraud,” he says.

Anyway, now you know as much as I know about where Jackman, Magney and Bamonte stand on Prop 1.

If you’d like to hear Magney and Jackman explain in their own words what’s wrong with Spokane’s fire service, contact the radio station KTRW in Spokane at http://www.ktrw.com. Ask for a CD of the shows that the firemen recorded on 2/12/10 on “The RIGHT Spokane Perspective with George and Mike” show.

If you like fooling around with mustard seeds and mountains, you can share this blog with others. Meanwhile, I just said a little prayer that you and your loved ones don’t need an ambulance in Spokane. Please do the same for me. Thanks.

17 Comments

Filed under Public Corruption

17 responses to “Fire and Fraud in Spokane

  1. Dick Adams

    Seems to me, the current EMS levy ballot should not have been placed on a special election costing tens of thousands of dollars extra, rather than combining it with the up coming elections to save money. For gosh sakes, the EMS levy if approved is not effective until January, 2011.

  2. Well now – welcome to the wild and woolly new frontier of blogging. The new social media can definitely benefit from your journalistic standard of excellence. I will pass this post around.

    Det. Ron Wright (Retired)

  3. John Talbott

    I prepared for retirement by getting a Masters in Political Science with an emphasis on Community Development. I wanted to retire to Spokane and give back to the community that did so much for me as a youth. I wanted to Volunteer, and so I did.

    Let me flash back to my youth, and what I learned to live with was an adult thing in Spokane called a “shadow government”, a very real but elusive thing that affected everything about Spokane. During my journey I found that “shadow government” was everywhere. It was a force that manipulated every aspect of the quality of life of a community. The common denominator of the force was “leadership power” to hold sway over the will of the people. A constant spin of the truth used to manipulate the will of an overstressed people in pursuit of just keeping up. To name just a few of the major “spins” think of Expo 74, the Incinerator, Riverpark Square, and too many Levies to mention. Each of those were spun to make us believe that our very life, jobs, children, health, would suffer significantly if not approved. Follow the money trail, and in each case spin told us without these Spokane would die.

    Reality was that without these life-saving projects the “shadow government” and their self-serving special interests would be brought to their knees.
    The promoters of these frauds on the people used half truths, innuendo, threats and promises to win their objective, and we the people, tired of the battle, gave up. We bought the promises and lies and with each one added to the mountain of debt that has overwhelmed Spokane.

    How do we stop this onslaught? We need a force of our own, made up of people of honor, of character willing to provide leadership built on truth and willingness to unselfishly serve their community. One of our national leaders once said “it takes a community to raise a child.” I might add a community of people of honor, and character.
    We have had a some of those leaders, Larry has mentioned a few. We need to encourage them and support them to continue leading us in our battle to root out the fraud, prosecute the perpetrators and restore our community. We need to take the time to know and understand what is going on!

    John Talbott

  4. Great comment Mayor Talbott. I totally agree with your assessment of the political/governmental environment in Spokane.

    I’ve only been here several years but have formed a similar opinion. As I summarize in my in my research for filing a civil RICO complaint in the RPS Bond Frauds ( http://tinyurl.com/ykemtqr):

    RPS Bond Frauds and Jo Savage Manslaughter RICO Case

    “The Cowles Co. media dynasty (Spokane, WA) and those who aided and abetted it perpetuated a series of frauds on the Spokane taxpayers in the River Park Square Bond Fraud (RPS Bonds I); the RPS Bailout (RPS Bonds II AKA RPS Settlement Agreement) – a second fraud that was committed to conceal the first RPS bond fraud; and the actions/omissions of the principals in these frauds, directly caused the death of Joe Ellen Savage in the RPS Parking Garage. In my professional opinion the death of Savage was the direct result of actions, omissions and failure of due diligence by the Cowles Co., regarding the safety it owed its patrons in the RPS Parking Garage. For economic reasons the Cowles Co. in the commission of these bond frauds failed to mitigate a known imminent public hazard involving failing parking barriers in the RPS Parking Garage that resulted in Savage’s death. Entwined in these RPS bond frauds was the illegal issuance of a Section 108 HUD loan for $22.6 million dollars. This HUD loan was secured on behalf of the City of Spokane for the Cowles Co. that was laundered into the RPS Mall expansion project. The Cowles Co. in my opinion, the developer of the RPS Mall expansion project, in a series of criminal acts has established a clear pattern and practice of criminal activity that by definition is a criminal enterprise as defined in the Federal RICO Act. This criminal enterprise has systemically co-opted/corrupted the City of Spokane government. These frauds will ultimately cost the Spokane taxpayers $87.5 million dollars.”

    “There have been other highly suspicious public/private projects that appear to have unduly benefited Spokane’s power elite led by the Cowles Co. and their associates namely, the STA Transit Plaza, the Sports Arena, and the Convention Center. The now defunct Kendall Yards Project and the MOBIUS Project have many earmarks of the RPS bond frauds. There were two arson fires that coincidentally preceded two of these developments e.g., the District 81 School Administration Building where the new Nordstrom’s now is located at the RPS Mall and the Jamison Building (AKA the Zukor Clothing Store) where the STA Transit Project now sits. In the Jamison Building fire, Spokane Fire Department Capt. Bob Hanna was killed fighting this fire – arson/murder with no statutory limitation. ”

    “This is the very corrosive impact organized crime has on government. In my 35-year career as a criminal investigator, this is certainly one of the most blatantly criminal enterprises I have ever encountered. It’s hard to find words to adequately describe it. This is no appeasing of organized crime. It must be thoroughly destroyed.”

    Det. Ron Wright (Retired)

    See RPS Table of Evidence with hotlinks to source documents ( http://tinyurl.com/ybgkjqe )

  5. Rich Magney

    A fast response to a medical emergency is only 1/4th of the equation. The other 3/4th of the equation is how fast you provide emergent care and get the patient to the hospital and under the care of a physician. It is the order of a physician that can call for the laboratory, radiology and special procedures such as cath lab and emergency surgery. These are the definitive tools of diagnostics that save lives and improve recovery. These definitive diagnostic procedures can discover a life-threatening condition that will only appear as a subtle and innocuous sign or symptom in the field. Rapid transport delayed is treatment denied.

    Spokane is a medical center with 3 tertiary hospitals. One of those tertiary hospitals (SHMC) is a regional trauma center and is no more than 10 minutes away from the furthest part of our city limits. While in rare instances advanced life support in the field is necessary, survival and better recovery would be accomplished for more patients with a “Load & Go” system. Currently it takes the fire trucks more than 7 minutes to arrive at the scene of a medical emergency. According to the National Fire Protection Association and the American Heart Association that is over 3 minutes too long. When seconds count, minutes are forever. Also, more than another 15 minutes (and sometimes much more than that) is taken up just waiting for the ambulance.

    Our current system is based on the illusion that as long as the fire trucks are there the patient is being well cared for until the ambulance arrives. Because of this illusion, the save rate for code resuscitations is much lower in Spokane than Seattle and other cities. It is interesting to note that the number of ambulances per capita is also lower in Spokane than other metropolitan areas of equal size.

    Military conflicts have proven the need for paramedical skills in the field. But more importantly, those same conflicts have proven that minimal treatment in the field and rapid transport
    (helicopter-medivac) to the field hospital and the surgeon’s knife is what ultimately saves life and limb.

    The City of Spokane needs an EMS system that operates with professionally staffed ambulances that can respond to any medical emergency within 5 minutes or less and deliver the patient to the hospital within 20 minutes or less. The mayor, city council and the EMS bureaucracy in Spokane are not concerned about a higher standard of patient care. They are also not concerned about the medical/financial health of our citizens. A case in point: The local ambulance company (AMR) was going to charge a local resident $6,500 to be transported from Seattle to Spokane. An ambulance from Yakima did it for $1,700.

    Rich Magney

  6. Jock Swanstrom

    On Tue, Apr 13, 2010 at 6:53 PM, JS Swanstrom wrote:

    Larry, There is always fraud when they ask for more money. The EMS and the school drop out folks tax plan both are fraudulent means to divert funds for dishonest reasons. It’s always for safety using scare tactics, or for the kids. The well is dry. Those who propose these tax plans put on pressure and then disappear in the fog or wind with no conscience or responsibility. Those who are left pay the tab. Great stuff Larry. Regards, Jock

  7. Larry,

    As I emailed several friends with my comment above re the objectivity of the Spokesman-Review:

    [Larry] Perhaps your new blog will help gain critical mass within Spokane’s social network. It won’t take much before the people realize that the S-R does not objectively report on these issues involving the Cowles Family.

    I find it amazing the S-R still has not run a story on the vote of no confidence on Chief Kirkpatrick [By the Police Guild]. In most places this would be page one above the fold news – no matter whether it was justified or not or was really a valid vote. Why hasn’t the S-R reported?

    I know it’s a reach but I’m tending to believe this was a favor re not investigating the Savage case as it should have been. This isn’t a real stretch of the imagination when we have the obvious S-R spinning of Michael Ormsby’s nomination for US Attorney and the flagrant non mention of the scathing IRS report/public rebuke of him for his actions in the RPS bond fraud.

    BTW you should post a collection of information on Ormsby that the S-R and others have failed to report on your new blog.

  8. Spoke

    Aargh! My blood pressure doubled when I read the following from Larry’s post:

    “But not only is the fraud with which AMR infects Spokane’s fire service a fiscal ripoff, it’s a physical killer, note emergency medical technicians Jackman and Magney. They cite a study comparing emergency ambulance services in Seattle and Spokane. The survival rate for “code call” emergencies in Seattle is 45%, they say. In Spokane, it is 8%. Code calls mean “somebody has just dropped down to the ground, unconscious, not breathing,” explains Magney.
    That means Spokane’s citizens are being charged usurious rates for lethal ambulance service.”

    Never mind all the rest of the political garbage going on, this one directly affects my (and your) survival chances. For every 10 people who drop in their tracks, four or five will live in Seattle but only one will live in Spokane, and that one’s iffy. What are the survival rates for backseat transport for codes? Might be higher. I’d love to look further into these data… Would you please provide more info on the database? Website(s)?

    Usurious rates for lethal ambulance service. Whew, that’s enough to give you a heart attack. But wait! Grab and go using your backseat; it’s probably safer and certainly cheaper.

    • Rich Magney

      The Seattle Fire Department’s EMS system operates in conjunction with King County Medic One. Seattle Medic One is one of the premier EMS programs in the country if not the world. Both Seattle Fire Department and Medic One have websites. For comparative information google USA TODAY-Paramedics.

      Load and Go (“grab and go”) refers to loading the patient into the ambulance and transporting the patient to the hospital as quickly as possible. Needless to say, minimal time is required for vitals and patient exam and assessment. Also, minimal time maybe required for patient packaging and stabilization for things such as cervical and lower spine injury and wound care, etc. The sooner the patient gets to hospital the better his or her chances are for complete recovery.

      Rich

  9. Eric Staggs

    A police department employee keyed me into this blog recently, and I must say I appreciate his forwarding it on.

    First off, Mr Shook, I’d like to formally invite you to come to Fire Station 3 on C shift for a visit. You will find myself, an 8 year firefighter/paramedic, another firefighter who is a paramedic intern, and our superiors. I think it would be of interest for you to actually come see the inner workings, and join us on some calls where you can form your own opinion, instead of taking those of others. You can contact me via the email address I have provided.

    Second, let’s talk about the statistics. I can regale you the conspiratorial story of our reporting system and some players that retired Lt. Jackman has informed you of (I worked with him on some of the fact-finding, so I am aware of the situations he speaks of). Bottom line, there is a data skew between the way the reporting system is worded, and the way in which we were trained to use the reporting system. It is a single, solitary box which we check that states whether the patient expired on the scene, at the ER, or was admitted. As many of us do not know if the patient was admitted, it had been left empty in the past, which significantly skewed results to the negative.

    A better way to check the survivability of patients is to contact Sacred Heart/Holy Family and Deaconess directly, because they can source just Spokane-based deliveries and outcomes of those patients. I personally have responded to 7 witnessed cardiac arrest patients in the past 12 months, 5 of which were delivered to the hospital with a heartbeat, pulse, and strong vital signs. This definitely beats the 8% standard as you’ve noted, so I welcome any system based questions you may have.

    E

    • Thank you for this response, Mr. Staggs and for your offer to host me as a guest at Station 3. More than that, thank you for your service as a fireman and paramedic. I very much appreciate the courage and dedication that such service to our community requires. Those aren’t just words. My Dad was a San Diego Fire Dept. fireman. (I have his old turn-out coat.) Because I grew up with firemen, I imagine I hold the profession in even higher regard than the average citizen. On at least one occasion I recall as a little kid, one Sunday en route to dinner at my grandparents’ house, Dad pulled over at an accident scene, leaving his family in the car, to give first aid before official responders showed up. Let me share two other personal perspectives about the work you and your colleagues do. Several times over the last many years I have been at accident scenes–sometimes directing traffic–when Spokane firemen and ambulance personnel arrived. It’s always been a great experience. These angels roar up in their gear, take control of a bad situation, and calmly and compassionately use their skills and professional training to help folks who really need it. I have never felt anything but pride and gratitude in such moments. Beyond that, as a helicopter gunship crewman in Vietnam, I spent a lot of hours providing cover to medics trying to save the wounded (often getting wounded, sometimes dying, themselves) and covering Dust Off ships evacuating the wounded. So I have plenty of respect for firemen and medics. God bless you all.

      But that’s not what this blog is about. It’s about unequivocal assertions by professional firemen of wasted money and wasted lives. It’s about serious charges of public corruption. If you can document the error of these assertions, or cause your superiors to do so, I would welcome the opportunity to publish that documentation here. I request you take the necessary steps to produce it and get it to me as quickly as possible so we can post it. That will be a valuable community service.

      Meanwhile, if my schedule permits I will take you up on your generous offer of hospitality. I love fire stations and enjoy the company of firemen.

  10. Good infomation here, thanks.

  11. Mary M Carr

    Larry,
    I voted No for the Fire Bond Levy and will vote No for the EMS Levy. Why? Because the City and Bobby Williams keep threatening taxpayers. Will Spokane Fire really lay off paramedics and firefighters when there’s lots of fat to cut elsewhere? Visit the Spokane Fire Departments training center behind Spokane Community College. A colossal waste of taxpayers dollars on a facility built to prop the egos of Spokane Fire management. An entire video department headed by Dean Pearcy — you can’t tell me that anyone can justify cutting firefighters and paramedics when there’s waste such as this. How about an article on where money is really going at the SFD?

  12. I had no idea any of this happened. Thanks for bringing this information to light.

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