The FBI is looking for evidence that longtime suspect in the 2001 murder of Federal Attorney Thomas Wales enlisted the backing of an infamous drug cartel to orchestrate the assassination, according to sources familiar with the case.
If the authorities can prove the connection, it could break the alibi of the man the FBI has been focusing on as the prime suspect almost since the day Wales was killed – a commercial airline pilot who harbored a grudge against Wales.
At the same time, this theory complicates matters: Perhaps the man the agents believe pulled the trigger – a low-level professional criminal from Snohomish County hired to pay the drug debt – did not know who ordered the murder. who he killed and why.
For 20 years – on Monday – the anniversary – a task force of agents, detectives and special prosecutors played a marathon game of cat and mouse with a pilot unable to overcome his alibi: he was miles away in his home. in a fine arts village near Bellevue and by phone when they were shot in Wales.
Agents repeatedly ransacked his homes, pulled him out of his cab, dragged friends and family in front of a grand jury, conducted a covert operation to investigate operations, and offered a $ 1.5 million reward. They spent years tracking down buyers of custom-made barrels linked to the crime scene and pressured and even indicted people they believed were involved in the conspiracy in hopes of solving the case, but to no avail.
Now they think they are close – or at least closer – and the details read like a Hollywood script: revenge, alibis, international drug cartels, smuggling, theft, and ultimately murder.
Wales, a 49-year-old prosecutor, father and gun advocate, was writing emails on a basement computer on the night of October 11, 2001, when someone slipped into his Queen Anne’s backyard and shot him several times through a window, then escaped.
If the murder was related to his work, Wales would be the first assassination of a federal attorney in office in US history.
Investigators are currently drafting a memo detailing their theory and evidence for Special Attorney Steve Claymer, who heads the criminal department at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albany, N.Y. crime. killing or obstructing investigators.
In recent years, the FBI has concluded that the Wales murder was revenge committed on behalf of a commercial airline pilot who was once prosecuted by Wales for fraud. Since then, the agents have focused on a “small group” of people, most of whom reside in Snohomish County, who they believe are aware of the murder.
The connection between the pilot and the group was elusive, but now the FBI and federal prosecutors are looking at the pilot’s alleged connection with the powerful Mexican drug cartel Sinaloa as a common denominator. The cartel has a long history of illegal drug trafficking in western Washington, according to federal prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
According to them, the pilot was smuggling drugs for the cartel and asked him for help in finding someone to kill Wales for him, sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The pilot, who now lives in Delaware, did not respond to numerous messages left on his cell phone. He never spoke to the FBI or publicly commented on the case. His lawyer told The New Yorker in a 2007 article that his client was innocent and that “everyone liked Tom Wales, including us … We weren’t mad at him.”
In 2000, Wales prosecuted a pilot and his business associates for illegally converting a helicopter from military stocks for civilian use, allegedly violating FAA policy and safety regulations.
However, the case was dropped when an FAA expert challenged the government’s version. Nearly two years later, under the threat of a felony conviction, charges against the pilot and his co-defendants were dropped and the case settled after their companies pleaded guilty to violating FAA procedures.
The pilot then filed a lawsuit against the government, claiming that he was unlawfully prosecuted and forced to spend $ 125,000 on legal fees. He claimed that the case was constantly in his head and had an emotional impact on him.
Federal prosecutors disputed these allegations, saying that two people described the pilot as “violent and punitive.” His pending lawsuit when Wales was killed was later dismissed.
News reports after Wales was gunned down noted that US Air, which had teamed up with American Airlines, wrote a letter dated December 20, 2001 warning the pilot that he was a “stakeholder” in the killing and that he was suspected. transportation of illegal drugs on US Airways.
Initially, the FBI put forward the version that the pilot shot Wales, but he had what looked like an alibi – that he was at home during the shooting, talking on the phone with someone who could check the conversation.
No criminal charges were opened and the pilot was eventually allowed to fly again.
Over the past 20 years, the FBI has invested enormous resources in the case: the investigation has been given the status of a “special case” – with a permanent special task force, special funding and a name (SEAPROM, which means “Assassination of the Seattle Attorney”). …
In a statement released last week, the FBI said investigating the Wales murder remains “a top priority” and that task force investigators have traced “thousands of investigative findings.”
In 2019, the Justice Department indicted Shauna Reed, a 36-year-old woman from Marysville who, as a teenager, was linked to a man who agents believed was tracking down a killer the night Wales was shot. It was hoped that indicting Reed for lying before a grand jury investigating a murder in Wales would shake up additional information or witnesses. However, prosecutorial oversights and Reid’s long history of personal problems and drug use have undermined the case. Earlier this year, she pleaded guilty to misconduct.
However, the FBI now believes it knows who shot in Wales and how the murder happened. Despite Reid’s seemingly futile prosecution, sources say the case remains open and that the events have breathed life into an investigation that, as one former FBI officer put it years ago, felt like a “snake piece” from the start.
Investigators are investigating a local drug distribution network centered in Kitsap County, right through Puget Sound, which they believe provides a link between the pilot and the Wales murder.
The drug trade was disrupted in 2002 and its two main distributors, Mexican nationals, were prosecuted in federal court, jailed and deported.
The FBI believes the alleged shooter was recruited to assassinate Wales after the pilot reached out to his alleged cartel contacts, demanding retribution for the failed fraud prosecution. The man, now 52, who lives in Snohomish County, did not respond to numerous telephone messages asking for comment.
Among those involved in the drug business was Jeffrey Showers, a former mid-level distributor who, as the court records show, became a confidential informant and testified against two Mexican drug importers.
Showers, now 54, has ties to the man who agents believe shot Wales: about five months before the shooting, the man stole money for drugs and a truck from Showers, according to sources and court records. Showers said he believes his former acquaintance is capable of killing Wales.
Showers has denied involvement in the Wales murder and has not been named a suspect by law enforcement. Shawers’ ex-wife, who was married to him at the time, said the FBI had interviewed her several times.
In May 2001, according to documents, Showers reported the hijacking of a truck to the local sheriff’s office, stating that the man visited his home with another acquaintance who sat with Showers’ children while he and his then-wife, Teresa, took an evening out.
Showers said he left the key to his pickup truck because the seated man’s car had a flat tire and he wanted him to have an emergency vehicle. When the couple returned, the pickup and the visitor were gone, Showers told the MP.
The sitter told Showers that the visitor was planning to drive a pickup truck to the store to buy baby food, according to the sheriff’s report. The guest didn’t come back and didn’t call, Showers told the deputy.
A few days later, Everett police found the abandoned pickup truck.
In a telephone interview, Showers told The Seattle Times that the man also stole $ 10,000 to $ 15,000 of illegal drug proceeds from him, which he did not report to the sheriff’s office. Teresa Showers said in an interview that, in her opinion, the amount of money could have been greater. His current wife Angela Showers said it was $ 25,000.
According to the transcript of a federal court case against two Mexican distributors, Showers admitted to having moved up to 30 pounds of methamphetamine over an eight-month period. He paid more than $ 165,000 for it and sold it for much more.
In exchange for his cooperation, Showers appeared in state court and was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison, about half the maximum 10-year sentence for distributing methamphetamine.
Douglas James Hill was at the time serving as Special Assistant to the United States Attorney, handling drug and firearms cases and handling the case. He said the amount of drugs indicated that the men were “directly linked” to major Mexican drug manufacturers and distributors, almost all of which are run by drug cartels.
Two Mexican ringleaders served lengthy prison sentences for drug trafficking – one received 14 years and the other 10 years before being deported. None of them cooperated with the task force.
Jeffrey Showers said he met the man who stole his truck and drug money while serving a sentence in the now closed prison on McNeill Island in the late 1990s, and after each was released, they became friends who “ used and sold drugs. “
Showers said he had not seen the man since the theft, and was unhappy with what had happened.
“I would like to defeat him (expletive),” he said.
Showers now lives in Kennewick and says he has given up his criminal life and is working as a manager for a large construction company.
Jeffrey Schauers’ ex-wife, Teresa Schauers, said she was interrogated by federal agents from the Wales Task Force at least three times since 2012, and once the agents offered to help her with an unrelated criminal case if she cooperated.
She accused the FBI of “trying to pin” the murder in Wales on her ex-husband. She doubts his involvement, but said she believes the man who stole his truck and money – the man the FBI believes pulled the trigger – is capable of violence.
Jeffrey Showers also said the FBI sketch, released on the fifth anniversary of the murder, bears a striking resemblance to his former acquaintance.
In 2004, agents learned that shortly before the murder of Wales, one of his neighbors had reported a suspicious person in the area. Sources told The Seattle Times in 2019 that information leaked out immediately after the murder.
Investigators contacted a neighbor who helped them sketch a man who was seen hauling a black nylon suitcase in the Wales area weeks before Wales was killed. The man was described as being between the ages of 30 and 40, with a lean build, black hair, tobacco-stained teeth, and chipped left front teeth.
At first, the sketch didn’t seem important. But over time, this became crucial for the case and is now viewed as a possible connection between the murder on Queen Anne’s Hill and a man from Snohomish County.
In an earlier conversation with The Seattle Times, Showers’ current wife, Angela Showers, also noted that the Snohomish County man was widely known for cycling “everywhere,” Jeffrey Showers confirmed the observation.
Sources told The Times that the FBI has information that the killer left the area on a bicycle after being shot in Wales.