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The Nation

FBI Offers Reward in Prosecutor's Killing

April 20, 2002|KIM MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEATTLE — FBI officials said Friday they have "reason to believe" there is a potential witness with information about the killing of federal prosecutor Thomas C. Wales, a gun control advocate who was shot through a window in his home six months ago.

Announcing a $1-million reward posted by the Justice Department for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case, local FBI chief Charles Mandigo said authorities have made progress in the investigation.

"We have come to the point where we do have reason to believe that someone, either knowingly or unknowingly, has knowledge of this homicide," Mandigo, the bureau's special agent in charge, told reporters.

"It is past time, in the name of honor and decency, [for them] to step forward," he said. "We will not rest or diminish our efforts until the person or persons responsible are brought to justice."

Wales, 49, was an 18-year prosecutor with the U.S. attorney's office in Seattle, specializing in white-collar fraud cases. He was also the board president of Washington CeaseFire, one of the nation's best-known regional gun control organizations.

He is the first prominent gun control activist to fall victim to handgun violence and, if his death is linked to one of his investigations, Mandigo said, the first federal prosecutor to be slain as a result of his duties.

The Justice Department has placed a priority on solving the case, which so far has produced no identified suspects. The FBI has six agents assigned to the case full time, with up to 20 agents working on it from time to time--more than have ever been assigned to a single case in the region, even the high-profile investigation of international terrorism suspect Ahmed Ressam two years ago.

Veteran organized crime prosecutor Joshua Nesbitt is supervising the investigation, and the Seattle Police Department also has two detectives on the case full time.

"Tom's death left a huge hole in this community," Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said Friday. "Prosecutors aren't armed law enforcement agents, but they are really and truly on the front line, and I think it's incredibly important that we bring the person or persons responsible to justice."

Sources close to the case said detectives have scrutinized at least one criminal suspect targeted by Wales in his work as a prosecutor, though they are continuing to look at other possibilities in the more than 100 interviews conducted so far.

Wales, who was divorced and lived alone, was sitting at his computer near a basement window late on the night of Oct. 11 when someone fired several shots through the window, hitting him twice. A neighbor said she saw a man walk quickly down the street and get into a car.

Mandigo declined to elaborate on why investigators believe someone may have information about the case. Asked whether it could include a driver or someone who wasn't aware he or she had seen evidence of a homicide, he nodded and said: "Of that general nature."

Wales was a tenacious prosecutor with a 100% conviction record, but he had an affable personality that won him friends on both sides of the counsel table. Friends and family said he had no known enemies, though he had been threatened anonymously in the course of his work with Washington CeaseFire.

Mandigo said it is important to know whether Wales' killing was connected to his work as a prosecutor. "I think it's important for the integrity of the law enforcement system, either way, one way or another, to know. And the only way to do that is to bring the responsible person to justice.

"We are a nation of law. We are not a nation of 'Solve your problem with a gun.' "

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