- Board Meeting
- Suspect Search
- Suspicious Death
- Confusion Unified
- Little Dog
- Principal VandeBunte
- Regulating Industry
- Bewley Village
- Beauty Spot
- Cannabis Kibosh
- Mendo Pensioners
- Yesterday's Catch
- Tick Season
- Manchester Attacks
- Bully Worship
- Peace Boat
- Musical Play
- Guitar Masters
- Oakland Happenings
- Insane Worldview
- FB Fires
NOTICE: TODAY'S MEETING OF THE BOONVILLE SCHOOL BOARD is at 5pm at the superintendent's office at the elementary school.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Incident Number: 2017-14289
Crime/Incident: 187 PC [Murder}
Location: 42900 Block of Caspar Little Lake Road (AKA County Rd 409), Mendocino CA.
Date of Incident: 05/23/2017
Time: Approximately 8:36 AM
Victim(s): Jamie Dawn Shipman, 57 years of age, Mendocino CA
Suspect(s): Kelley Ann Coan, 39 years of age, Mendocino CA
Written By: Lieutenant Shannon Barney
Synopsis: On 5/23/2017 around 8:36 AM the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office received a call from a resident living in 42900 block of Caspar Little Lake Road in Mendocino who reported shots being fired west of his location. A deputy was dispatched to the location, searched the area west of the reporting person's location, as well as the main road, but did not locate anything suspicious nor did he hear shots being fired. This area is densely forested with pygmy forest with residences scattered on large parcels throughout the area.
Around 11:12 AM a medical aid call was received from a resident, who lives south of the original caller, requesting and ambulance for a female who was down and injured. Medical units and Sheriff's Deputies responded where they located victim Jamie Shipman, 57 years of age, deceased. The evidence located at the scene indicated Shipman was the victim of a homicide. Sheriff's Detectives, assisted by investigators of the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office, responded and assumed the investigation.
Detectives learned the victim and her husband have lived on the property for several years as did the suspect, Kelley Coan, 39 years of age, and her son, 20 years of age. The investigation revealed the Coan was upset with the victim and her husband about a dispute related to the property they all lived on. The victim's vehicle was missing from the scene. Evidence at the scene led detectives to believe Coan was responsible for the homicide and a warrant is being sought at this time for her arrest on a charge of murder.
The victim's vehicle is still outstanding and is described as a 2009 Chevrolet HHR, California license plate #6JWT270. A photograph of the vehicle is attached below.
Kelley Coan, shown in the attached photograph from 2007, is also outstanding. She is described as a white female adult, 5'06" tall, weighing approximately 140 pounds, with brown hair and hazel eyes.
The Sheriff's Office is requesting anyone with information related to the whereabouts of the suspect, the victim's vehicle, or pertinent information about this case to contact the Sheriff's Dispatch Center at (707)463-4086 or the Sheriff's Tip Line at (707)234-2100.
WOMAN FOUND DEAD IN CASPAR UNDER SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES
On 05-23-2017 at 11:12 AM Deputies from the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office were dispatched to a suspicious death at a residence located in the 42000 block of Caspar Little Lake Road in Caspar, California. Responding Deputies located a deceased 60 year-old female at the residence and Sheriff's Detectives were summoned for further investigations. Upon initial investigations it was discovered the 60 year-old female's vehicle was missing from the residence. The vehicle is described as being a blue 2009 Chevrolet HHR with a gold medallion on the hood. The side is marked with "American Repair Company" and has a California license plate of 6JWT270. Sheriff's Detectives are looking to locate the vehicle as part of the ongoing investigation into the 60 year-old female's suspicious death. Anyone who observes the vehicle should not approach it and immediately call the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office at (707) 463-4086. Because of the status of the ongoing investigation no other information is available for release at this time.
(Sheriff’s Press Release)
Confusion reigns at neo-turbulent AV Unified. A hurry-up meeting of the trustees saw a puzzled crowd of teachers and a few parents stuff themselves into Superintendents Hutchins’ office at the Elementary School late Tuesday afternoon to mull over a five-item agenda that included a student expulsion; a possible hire of a hearing officer to oversee the student expulsion; extension of a contract with Jendi Coursey Communications to do public relations work for the district; an evaluation of the superintendent's job performance; the "dismissal, discipline, release of a public employee," presumably Keri St. Jeor, high school principal.
Trustee Wynne Crisman chaired the meeting. Also on hand were trustees Natalie Matson, Kerri Sanchez, and Eric Arbanovella, the latter resigned as of June 30. (Apologies to Mr. A for our assumption that he had already retired.)
The only public comment was from Mark Scaramella who suggested that the Board make decisions more on what people do or don’t do and less on what they say.
The Board seemed unprepared for the approximately 20 people who showed up to crowd into the superintendent's office.
The board approved the contract with the Office of the Administrative Hearings (OAH) which legally allows them to pay through the nose for a retired judge to conduct an expulsion hearing. The process over the years has been a hearing before the local school board and an appeal, if any, to the County School Board. Bringing in a retired judge seems unnecessary, and is certainly expensive.
The question of extending the existing agreement with Jendi Communications arose because in the last three months the district has spent $6000 on having her do things like update the school’s Facebook page and that was their initial funding limit.
There was a confusing discussion about one of the motions when Arbanovella, diving into a well worn copy of Roberts Rules of Order, insisted that he was allowed to move to postpone the Jendi Communications discussion.
He withdrew his motion to continue the motion and the board instead simply voted not to continue the contract with the stipulation that they can still authorize Ms. Coursey to do work on a case-by-case basis, one of those cases apparently being a statement of an allegation by the elementary school principal that she was held against her will in the superintendent's office by the superintendent. It will be interesting to read the clever Ms. Coursey's spin on recent events.
The board decided to abdicate their responsibility as a board to conduct an expulsion hearing by turning the job over to an outside lawyer who "knows the law" as opposed to "lay people," as Mr. Arbanovella described himself and his fellow trustees. It apparently hasn't occurred to him that there are lawyers and there are lawyers. Some are capable, some aren't.
The community might be better served if their school board exerted the authority vested in them by law and vote rather than continue to contract out routine matters like expulsion hearings and "communications."
At one point during the discussion of the Jendi Communications agreement, board member Kerry Sanchez asked, "Can we come back to this after we have our new principal?" — implying that the decision to replace one of two principals has already been made.
A lawyer named Jennifer Nicks (Nix?) early in the meeting spoke inaudibly on the speaker phone, advising the board about various options and procedures.
The four trustees retreated into closed session.
Mark Scaramella said he assumed they would make an announcement out of closed session about the matters they talked privately about, but that a written announcement would suffice. The board agreed.
Another hurry-up meeting is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at four, venue to be announced.
LITTLE DOG SAYS, “These hot days I go out to the wild place here and wait there until I can feel the fog settling in on the Coast, and I see the cool winds blow through the trees.”
A YOUNG FAMILY MAN named Blake VandeBunte has been hired as principal at Point Arena High School. According to the Gualala-based Independent Coast Observer, "VandeBunte plans to make another short two-day trip to Point Arena soon to look for a house with his wife and newborn. 'I've got three little kids,' he said. 'That's kind of been on the forefront (sic) right now.'"
THE LAST YOUNG FAMILY MAN lured to Point Arena to run one of its famously ineffective schools nearly had his life ruined. Matt Murray not only retrieved PA elementary from the very pits of academic failure in a mere year on the job, and then was fired because the core group of his lazy staff complained to PA's weak and treacherous superintendent about Murray's unreasonable demand of them that they do a honest day's work. Mark Iacuanicello, then the district's superintendent, had assured Murray he was happy with his work, had his back and so on and then, supported by PA's eternally incompetent and cowardly trustees, sacked Murray, who'd already bought a home and settled in with his young family.
THE ICO quotes one of the incompetent district's eternal trustees, Jim DeWilder, that the new guy isn't "walking into a bed of roses."
NO, THE UNSUSPECTING new hire isn't entering a rose garden, as I'm sure he'll soon discover.
WE WROTE of the Murray debacle at the time:
Murray was hired as Point Arena Elementary School principal based on a stellar record in Long Beach. He had successfully lifted the historically troubled Point Arena from state probation. The Superintendent told Murray that Murray would have his full support for whatever was necessary to improve PA's educational results.
Then he was fired.
Behind closed doors.
With no fair hearing, no due process, no nothing. Even though Murray asked that his entire situation be handled by the Superintendent and the Board in public.
Except Superintendent Mark Iacuaniello's demand of his captive school board, in writing no less, that either Matt Murray went or he went.
The Point Arena School Board chose Iacuaniello over the welfare of their Elementary students after the teachers union went directly to the Superintendent complaining that he was making them work too hard and they didn’t like his style.
Murray’s contract with the coastal school district was terminated at a fall 2006 school board meeting during which Point Arena's School Board announced Murray’s dismissal before taking public comment and without considering a petition by more than 300 voters, many of them parents of Murray’s students, who wanted Murray to remain principal.
Murray sued but he had to prove actual malice on the part of Iacuaniello. After several weeks of trial in Mendocino County Superior Court, which exposed PA's trustees and the oleaginous Iacunaello as the back-stabbing cowards they were, Murray couldn't quite prove all the legal elements of his allegations and lost his case.
Murray's reputation was ruined in Mendocino County and he left for a better position in Idaho, after being forced to sell the house at a big loss that he'd bought because he thought he had a long-term position.
INTELLIGENT PEOPLE, as opposed to overpaid bureaucrats who get paid to complicate things unnecessarily, could come up with a better regulatory regime for pot and wine that wouldn’t cost so much, wouldn’t create a black market, wouldn't outrage all persons unaffiliated with these two industries, and would protect the environment into the bargain.
IN THE ENDLESS case of pot, the issue should have been turned over to an expanded version of the Alcoholic Beverage Control office. It’s not perfect, but the pot people can live with the same bureuacrats the wine people have been living with and at least you’d have standardized rules throughout the state without a bunch balkanized county staffers coming up with their own inconsistent, overlapping, conflicting, redundant rules and regs. (The County could deal with basic zoning questions as an input to ABC.)
THE WINE people whine a lot about how much they're regulated, especially water-regulated. And it’s true that it’s costly and paperwork-intensive with lawyers and consultants, etc. (The pot people are doing the same thing, but they’re not as experienced with it as the wine people.)
BUT ALL THE bureaucratic fol de rol could have been avoided if something like former State Water Board staffer Bruce Fodge’s idea had been accepted.
BACK IN THE EARLY 90s, Fodge came to Anderson Valley to deal with the initial complaints about the first big round of water appropriation permits from local wine moguls. The Water Board at first wanted the grape growers to jointly finance an EIR to make sure they protected the endangered salmon in the Navarro Watershed. (The fish, of course, are long gone.) It was estimated to cost about a quarter million dollars. The wine people, who include a slug of multi-millionaires, balked at the price tag. So Fodge said if the wine people would agree with a regimen which maintained minimum flows for fish, they could waive the EIR.
THIS WOULD INVOLVE four simple restrictions: 1. No pumping unless the Navarro gage was running over 200 cubic feet per second, pumping only during the “diversion season” (November through March), no pipes bigger than two inches in diameter, and gages on all pumps.
THE WINE PEOPLE didn’t like having any restrictions on them at all, so they balked, and now it’s every grower for him/herself and they have to pay through the nose — two grape growers we know have paid over $150k each just to get their appropriation permits filed, and they still don’t have final approval — indivudally, which is costing far more than the $250k.
FODGE'S idea would not have cost anything. Grape growers would only have to pay if they wanted more water than the Fodge system would have allowed, and there wouldn’t be anywhere near the rancor or expense that has ensued.
NOW WE HAVE SOMETHING like the same situation developing for pot legalization — lots of balkanized rules subject to interpretation by each county bureaucracy with lots of staff turnover and revisions over time meaning no consistent rules and petty arguments about which rules applied when. And no consistent rules from County to County. Pot growers confused and unsure what to do. A guaranteed black market as growers refuse to submit to convoluted, expensive permit processes. Continued law enforcement for unpermitted grows, but minimal enforcement of the overly complicated county-by-county rules.
IN OTHER WORDS, business as usual in Mendoland.
AS FOR PEOPLE who have bought protection from raids via the Mendo process, we find Mr. Stuart Bewley at his 14,000-acre Adanac Ranch northeast of Laytonville, granted gro permits he did not qualify for last year as he lied about previous gros he did not grow, and this year the wine cooler magnate, having fully paid thousands for another round of permits, is busily bulldozing his ranch to install a virtual hoop house village. How this guy is getting over should be seriously investigated, but this is Mendocino County, and you tell me the last time a wealthy person found himself sitting at the defense table in the Mendocino County Courthouse.
BOONVILLE BEAUTY SPOT
SONOMA COUNTY PUTS KIBOSH ON COTTAGE CANNABIS INDUSTRY
by Jonah Raskin
Brian Elliott’s small, tidy Santa Rosa office is filled with mementos of his long life in public service. Perhaps most striking is the large fire chief’s helmet that he wore for decades. Indeed, no one alive in Sonoma County has put out more fires than Elliott, though these days he wears another kind of hat. He also does his best to extinguish with savvy and cool some of the political fires that have swept across urban and rural landscapes here. At 64, Elliott is a fierce albeit polite advocate for the local, billion-dollar a year cottage cannabis industry that the County of Sonoma aims to limit with dozens of new rules, regulations, fees and taxes, as well as the threat of fines and foreclosures on property if and when outlaws don’t “jump through the hoops,” as he calls them.
Fighting for cottage cannabis is probably his last stand. It is also perhaps a lost cause, though that notion only makes him more highly motivated to fight what he sees as the good fight. “The cost for someone to come into the marijuana business now is ridiculous high,” he said. He added, “The original idea was to bring growers from the unregulated to the regulated market. But with all the burdens involved in that transition people will likely choose to stay unregulated. I think that this county has probably missed the boat when it comes to bringing marijuana into the legal fold.”
Not long ago, growers here were euphoric. Indeed, Elliott himself remembers what he describes as the “Kumbaya atmosphere” when pot farmers, pot smokers and marijuana aficionados thought that happy days had finally arrived and that the promised post-prohibition land was just around the corner. In fact, last November, voters here and all across California approved proposition 64 that allowed for legal, recreational cannabis in addition to medical marijuana made possible by Proposition 215 that was approved in 1996.
Then, much to Elliott’s distress and the ire of pot farmers, smokers and aficionados, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisor ruled that no residents who lived on property zoned “Rural Residential” (RR) and “Agricultural Residential” (AR) could grow commercial marijuana crops. Marijuana, the supervisors concluded, wasn’t compatible with the rural life style of Sonoma. The only trouble was that nearly half of the estimated more than 3,500 or so marijuana farmers in Sonoma County had been growing the crop of their choice for decades on land zoned AR and RR. Curiously, the supervisors seemed to feel that in order to save the county they had to literally uproot the cottage marijuana industry and thereby end a way of rural life in Sonoma. Their ruling send growers reeling.
Enter Brian Elliott, perhaps as unlikely an advocate for marijuana as anyone in town. Unlikely not only because he was a fire fighter for 45 years, but also because his pioneering family has roots in rural Sonoma County that go back to the 1880s. Some of his relatives, he says, use medical marijuana for a variety of ailments— and it works wonders. He also says that he doesn’t consume cannabis in any way shape or form. Nor does he touch a drop of alcohol. (He’s a recovering alcoholic.)
Elliot has all the credential for a good citizen. “My hand has been in almost everything in this county,” he explained. For years, he taught at the Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC), and also worked as a carpenter and a commercial fisherman. These days he serves on the supervisory board of the Redwood Credit Union; he’d like it if banks would accept marijuana dollars and keep money out of the reach of thieves who stage home robberies. “Violence in the industry has been exaggerated,” he said. “It would largely vanish if banking was an option for growers.” Indeed, while there have been murders in marijuana related incidents, and while they have made headlines, they are the exception, not the rule.
Elliott represents 22 dogged, non-violent clients in the marijuana industry who are solvent enough to pay the county’s steep fees, and who can probably meet all or most of the stringent regulations that stipulate where, when and how they can grow their crops. They can also afford to pay Elliott $1,500 a month for his services. (He also offers an hourly rate.) He turns away many prospective clients because they live in areas not zoned for marijuana, or because they don’t have the wherewithal to make their properties compliant with regulations.
Perhaps what’s most striking are not his fees, which are reasonable enough, given his expertise, but the fact that he’s one of a dozen or so men who have recently become experts on cannabis, and who aim to take their clients as painlessly as possible through the hurdles created by county officials, plus near-constant surveillance and inspections by agencies like the Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) as well as water and fire. Elliott won’t and can’t reveal the names or the identities of his 22 clients. He signed non-disclosure agreements with them.
“I won’t name names,” he said. “But I feel that I can speak freely because I’m near the end of my life in public service.” He added, “I have a sense of compassion for the growers who aren’t in the pipe line for a permit. They might not ever get one. Unfortunately, the county doesn’t allow for case-by-case review. There are no variances in this business, though there are in other agricultural endeavors. I find that hypocritical. I would like Sonoma to be a lot more flexible when it comes to marijuana. I’m afraid it won’t be.”
The County of Sonoma won’t be issuing many permits this July when the whole permitting process begins. Only eleven people will be approved. Those eleven people will also have to apply to Sacramento for a permit to grow which means more fees, more rules and regulations.
The county’s slowness and its perceived inflexibility have led growers in the marijuana cottage industry here not to give up, but rather to go deeper underground and to be more secretive about their dealings on the black market. One woman who has cultivated cannabis since 1995 and who calls herself Pippi Longstocking has never had a permit. She doesn’t intend to get one now. “I like the grower life style,” she said. “It’s part bohemian, part outlaw and it’s outside the box.” She added, “Marijuana is the symbol of our culture.” Other outlaw growers are moving to places like Mendocino and Santa Cruz where regulations aren’t as stringent and where they feel they can operate under the radar. Some are also moving to the city of Santa Rosa, which has a lower tax rate for marijuana than the county and is friendlier to the crop.
That picture is clear from interviews with two dozen growers who attended the workshops that the county held in Santa Rosa in May and that were meant to inform citizens about the new, all-encompassing rules and regulations. Hundreds of growers packed the Glaser Center in Santa Rosa, took copious notes, grumbled among themselves and wondered where they might find the necessary cash. Dozens of women growers and dealers attended the workshops; not many Mexicans did. though they too grow weed. Nearly every ethnic group does.
The presenters clearly sensed the discomfort in the auditorium. Andrew Smith from Weights and Measures told listeners “Seems like there are fees, fees, fees, everywhere.” He added, “We will go through every application with a fine tooth and comb”— a comment that calmed no one.
Another county employee told the crowd, “A lot of this stuff we ourselves haven’t figured out.” Paul Cocking, an Investment and Debt officer for the county, must have read the collective mind of the assembled growers. “Don’t think of us as an evil government entity,” he said. “We want to help you.”
But to growers the help felt like an order from Big Brother. During the third of four workshops, Andrew Smith rattled off at least a dozen rules for pot farmers, including adoption of best management practices, proper job training for all employees, no cultivation on steep slopes, composting in accordance with California regulations, regular testing of water and soil and timely submission of use permits. It’s not that many if not all the regulations are bad or a waste of time. But to expect growers to meet the standards by the end of 2017 is not only unreasonable, it also smacks of strong-arm tactics. Even a vineyard with unlimited capital would have difficulty meeting the game plan proposed by the county for cannabis.
Tariq Alazarie—the CEO of a San Francisco pot dispensary that also owns a commercial marijuana farm in Santa Rosa—might be expected to see evil in the county bureaucracy. Instead, he sees a kind of intransigence. “I understand,” he says. “The people who make the rules today have the same mindset as the people who made the rules 150 years ago. It’s their territory. They don’t want it to change and they’re not going to change.”
Indeed, the Board of Supervisors has made it clear that it wants Sonoma to remain “Wine Country” and not become “Wine & Marijuana Country.” Still, not all the supervisors think alike. Lynda Hopkins, who represents the Fifth District and who owns and operates with her husband a small business and a small vegetable farm, would like to nurture the cottage marijuana industry.
“Cannabis is a significant driver of the economy in my district,” she said. “In the coastal hills people have been growing for a generation or more. It’s the family business. I have visited grow sites and processing facilities and toured some dispensaries. I’ve been impressed with the integrity of the operations. People are environmentally conscious.”
On the Board of Supervisors, Hopkins is in the minority, though she has Brian Elliott’s loyalty and support. “I’m so glad she’s there,” he said. He added, “The fledgling marijuana industry needs to be protected. Not that long ago growers went to federal prison for cultivating a botanical product. Today, we have an opioid epidemic and yet people demonize marijuana. It doesn’t make sense.”
Elliott and his fellow pot lobbyists have their eyes on the Trump administration. “We all talk about Attorney General Jeff Sessions,” he explained. “Prop 64 and recreational marijuana are definitely in jeopardy. We could see a big rollback.” That’s yet another reason why Sonoma marijuana farmers are staying underground and invisible and not coming forward to apply for permits. They’ve learned the hard way not to trust law enforcement.
(Jonah Raskin is the author of “Marijuanaland.” He wrote the story for the feature film “Homegrown.”)
EXHIBIT A: WHY MENDO IS BROKE
Top Mendo Pensioners (Over $70k per year)
- Meredith J Ford, 2014, $138,021.81
- Anthony J Craver, 2005, $133,223.88
- Hans Peter Klein, 2005, $121,845.45
- David A Bengston, 2009, $118,385.58
- Ronald E Welch, 2010, $114,613.62
- Donald L Miller, 2007, $111,573.33
- Phillip L Pintane, 2008, $107,852.76
- Susana J Wilson, 2010, $106,650.30
- Steven B Satterwhite, $2007, $104,985.69
- Robert G Mcalister, 2005, $102,120.72
- Dennis Huey, 2007, $101,779.02
- Timothy M Kiely, $2014, $98,366.64
- Steven J Prochter, 2008,$98, 232.24
- Kevin J Broin, 2012, $98,151.00
- James R Noe, 2011, $98,140.26
- C F Campbell, 1997, $97,152.84
- James O Brown, 2013, $92,681.37
- Barry R Little, 2010, $89,262.30
- Sharon M Hunt, 2013, $86,890.53
- Donald J Miller, 2007, $84,926.79
- Timothy J Knudsen, 2007, $82,697.88
- Timothy J Marsh, 2015, $82,367.29
- Carol L Whittingslow, 2008, $81,269.52
- Sandra L Brown, 2011, $80,539.02
- Peter W Halstad, 2006, $78,440.97
- William R Leach, 2011, $77,740.74
- John D Bushnell, 2012, $77,620.41
- Frank H Rakes, 2005, $76,586.46
- Raymond W Hall, 2008, $75,379.83
- Marsha Wharff, 2008, $75,367.17
- Dennis G Lucido, 2008, $75,206.88
- Duane K Wells, 1991, $73,593.90
- Gene Degeyter, 2001, $73,496.10
- Michael T Melvin, 2006, $73,131.39
- David Basner, 2010, $73,130.31
- Laurence L Mccarthy, 2005, $72,896.43
- James M Andersen, 2012, $72,841.92
- Keith S Squires, 2015, $72,841.20
- Mack E Ford, 2003, $72,643.56
- Linda B Nagel, 2012, $71,505.75
- Gregory W Sager, 2009, $71,298.81
- David A Koppel, 2008, $70,742.79
- Myra Drury, 2012, $70,137.63
CATCH OF THE DAY, May 23, 2017
CARLOS ALVAREZ, Ukiah. DUI.
ZACHARIAH BOESEL, Domestic battery.
ALISSA COLBERG, Fort Bragg. Probation revocation.
MICHAEL DONAHE, Ukiah. Drunk in public, probation revocation. (Frequent flyer.)
EDGAR FIGUEROA-GARCIA, Annapolis/Gualala. Grand theft, evasion, failure to appear.
ULICES GOMORA-ARROYO, Clearlake/Willits. DUI, suspended license.
JIMMIE ISENHART JR., Ukiah. Drunk in public.
EDWARD JOHNSON, Ukiah. Drunk in public. (Frequent flyer.)
DAVID LOCK, Drunk in public, resisting.
DANIEL NICHOLAS, Hayward/Willits. Drunk in public, dirk-dagger.
JOSE PUENTES, Kelseyville/Ukiah. DUI-drugs&alcohol.
HERMAN ROBERTSON, Concord/Redwood Valley. Suspended license.
SAMUEL SANCHEZ, Ukiah. Drunk in public. (Frequent flyer.)
SEQUOYAH VAUGHN, Ukiah. Probation revocation.
SCOTTY WILLIS, Ukiah. Panhandling, probation revocation. (Frequent flyer.)
From the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services:
Tick season is quickly approaching, and the Humboldt County Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) is reminding people to protect themselves and their animals.
The tiny, spider-like bugs attach themselves onto the skin of people and animals and feed on their blood. While many ticks are not harmful, there are some that transmit disease.
“It is impossible to tell if a tick carries Lyme disease or any other tick-borne disease by looks alone,” said DHHS Environmental Health Director Melissa Martel. “It’s important to educate yourself on tick safety and precautions.”
Only one tick found locally has the bacterium that causes Lyme disease—the Western blacklegged tick.
“As the weather gets warmer and we start to spend more time outdoors, we increase the chances of our exposure to adult ticks and the smaller nymphal stage ticks, which can also carry disease,” Martel said. “If you spend time in brushy, wooded areas or in our beach grasses, it’s important to check yourself thoroughly when you leave. If you find a tick on you, remove it properly and immediately.”
If you find a tick attached to your skin, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the surface of the skin as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not jerk or twist it. Make sure the entire tick has been removed, including the head. Once the tick has been removed, clean the area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or soap and water.
The Public Health Lab offers free tick identification. After removing a tick, if you want to know what type it is, place it in a sealed container or zip-close bag with a paper towel moistened with water.
If the tick is identified by lab staff as a Western blacklegged tick, they can test it for Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, for a $40 fee.
The Public Health Lab is located at 529 I St. in Eureka. For more information about tick testing, call 707-268-2179.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following tips to stay tick-free this season:
Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. Ticks are also common locally in our grass beach dunes.
When out on the trails, stick to the center of trails.
Use repellents that contains 20 percent or greater DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 directly on to exposed skin. Always follow product label instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes and mouth.
Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and may be protective longer.
Remove ticks found on your body immediately.
Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and especially in their hair.
Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats and day packs.
MANCHESTER ATTACKS: WHAT PRICE HYPOCRISY?
by John Wight
The lack of a coherent anti-terrorism strategy in Washington and by extension the West, as emergency services deal with the devastating aftermath of yet another terrorist atrocity in Europe – this time a suicide bomb attack at a concert in Manchester, England – has been thrown into sharp relief during President Trump’s tour of the Middle East.
Specifically, on what planet can Iran be credibly accused of funding and supporting terrorism while Saudi Arabia is considered a viable partner in the fight against terrorism? This is precisely the narrative we are being invited to embrace by President Trump in what counts as a retreat from reality into the realms of fantasy, undertaken in service not to security but commerce.
Indeed those still struggling to understand why countries such as the US, UK, and France consistently seek to legitimise a Saudi regime that is underpinned by the medieval religious doctrine of Wahhabism, which is near indistinguishable from the medieval religious extremism and fanaticism of Daesh and Nusra in Syria – those people need look no further than the economic relations each of those countries enjoy with Riyadh.
The announcement that Washington has just sealed a mammoth deal with its Saudi ally on arms sales – worth $110 billion immediately and $350 billion over 10 years – is all the incentive the US political and media establishment requires to look the other way when it comes to the public beheadings, crucifixions, eye gouging, and other cruel and barbaric punishments meted out in the Kingdom on a regular basis.
The sheer unreality of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, as he stood shoulder to shoulder with President Trump during the latter’s state visit to the country recently, lamenting the chaos and carnage in Syria, which he described as having been “one of the most advanced countries” prior to a conflict that has wrought so much death and destruction, the sheer unreality of this is off the scale – and especially so considering the role the Saudis have played in providing material, financial, and ideological and religious support to groups engaged in the very carnage in Syria as has just been unleashed in Manchester.
There are times when the truth is not enough, when only the unvarnished truth will do, and in the wake of the Manchester attack – in which at time of writing 22 people have been killed and 60 injured – we cannot avoid the conclusion that neither principle nor rationality is driving Western foreign policy in the Middle East, or as it pertains to terrorism.
Instead it is being driven by unalloyed hypocrisy, to the extent that when such carnage occurs in Syria, as it has unremittingly over the past 6 years, the perpetrators are still described in some quarters as rebels and freedom fighters, yet when it takes place in Manchester or Paris or Brussels, etc., they are depicted as terrorists. Neither is it credible to continue to demonize governments that are in the front line against this terrorist menace – i.e. Iran, Russia, Syria – while courting and genuflecting at the feet of governments that are exacerbating it – i.e. Saudi Arabia, previously mentioned, along with Qatar, Kuwait, and Turkey. Here, too, mention must be made of the brutal and ongoing injustice meted out to the Palestinians by an Israeli government that shares with the Saudis a doctrine of religious exceptionalism and supremacy, one that is inimical to peace or the security of its own people.
Ultimately a choice has to be made between security and stability or economic and geopolitical advantage, with the flag of democracy and human rights losing its lustre in recent years precisely because the wrong choice has been made – in other words a Faustian pact with opportunism.
As the smoke clears, both literally and figuratively, from yet another terrorist atrocity, we are forced to consider how we arrived at this point. And when we do we cannot but understand the role of Western extremism in giving birth to and nourishing Salafi-jihadi extremism. Moreover, in the midst of the understandable and eminently justifiable grief we feel at events in Manchester, it behooves us not to forget the salient fact that Muslims have and continue to be the biggest victims of this terrorist menace, unleashed in the name of religious purity andsectarianism, and that it is Muslims who are also doing most to confront and fight it, whether in Syria, Iraq, Libya, or Afghanistan. It should not escape our rendering of the issue either that what each of those countries have in common is that they have all been victims of the Western extremism mentioned earlier.
It bears repeating: you cannot continue to invade, occupy, and subvert Muslim and Arab countries and not expect consequences. And when those consequences amount to the slaughter and maiming of your own citizens, the same tired and shallow platitudes we are ritually regaled with by politicians and leaders intent on bolstering their anti-terrorism and security credentials achieve little except induce nausea.
Enough is enough.
(John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1)
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
If there are certain pages of Mr. Bertrand Russell's book, Power, which seem rather empty, that is merely to say that we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men. It is not merely that at present the rule of naked force obtains almost everywhere. Probably that has always been the case. Where this age differs from those immediately preceding it is that a liberal intelligentsia is lacking. Bully-worship, under various disguises, has become a universal religion, and such truisms as that a machine-gun is still a machine-gun even when a "good" man is squeezing the trigger — and that in effect is what Mr. Russell is saying — have turned into heresies which it is actually becoming dangerous to utter.
— Guess who
VETS FOR PEACE: SILVER'S AGAIN, HE MUST BE A VERY COOL GUY.
Vets For Peace restored a 1950 Quaker sailing boat - that challenged nuke testing in the Pacific. she's called The Golden Rule & she's coming to Noyo next month!
Fort Bragg: Dinner and presentation with the crew JUNE 13 @ 6:00 PM - 8:30 PM
Join the Golden Rule crew and shore support for dinner and drinks at 6 pm followed by presentations at 7 pm.
We’ll share the history of the Golden Rule Peace Boat and discuss nuclear issues today, including Fukushima and the United Nations Nuclear Weapons Ban negotiations.
We are very grateful to Silver’s at The Wharf for their generous contribution of a dock, hotel room and event space in the restaurant —THANK YOU!
The Golden Rule will be moored right at The Wharf Visiting hours are: Monday June 12 noon to 4 pm,
Tuesday June 13 10 am to 4 pm
Wednesday June 14 10 am to noon
If the weather permits we may take people sailing — call Helen Jaccard at 206-992-6364 to get your name on a passenger list. The Golden Rule Newsletter is Out!
We're excited about the upcoming voyage and hope to see you soon!
You can download the newsletter
including the current sailing schedule, and/or view it below!
Please forward widely, thank you!
Our first event of the season is in Fort Bragg at Silver's on the Wharf, Tuesday June 13 at 6 pm. More details here <http://org.salsalabs.com/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=nUV0AJ4vmOm18JD%2FRoEhFd%2FmBlB74ms3>
Also, Don’t Forget to apply if you are interested in sailing with us! Fill out the form
as soon as possible - we set sail from Humboldt Bay in northern California June 10 and arrive in San Diego August 22. While in San Diego all winter, we could use crew, too!
Nadya Connolly Williams
ALBION SCHOOL CHILDREN PERFORMANCE
The Albion School children will perform their musical play "The Sensational Surfing Sea Otters" this Wednesday, May 24 at 1pm at the "new" Albion School (3 miles east of Hwy 1).
ANDREW YORK & ALEX DE GRASSI
“Two Celebrated Guitar Masters,” Andrew York & Alex De Grassi, performing in Mendocino, CA
July 15, 2017 at 2:30 PM
Hill House Inn, 10701 Palette Drive, Mendocino, California 95460
“Alex de Grassi is a treasure... his technical wizardry as well as his vibrant and poetic music-making make him one of the most distinctive steel-string guitarists performing today.”
—David Spelman, Director of the New York Guitar Festival
"Andrew York’s eclectic writing and playing constitute one of the hippest styles in American classical guitar.” ---Jim Ferguson, Guitar Player Magazine
Two leading innovators of the guitar, GRAMMY® winning classical guitarist, Andrew York, and GRAMMY® nominee and Windham Hill superstar, Alex de Grassi join forces to fuse the sounds and traditions of steel and nylon into a unique duo program at the Hill House Inn on Saturday, July 15th. With roots in seemingly different traditions - De Grassi, getting his start as a self-taught folk and jazz musician, and York as a trained classical guitarist - their mutual passion for exploring all types of music has led these two acclaimed composers/performers to find a common ground where steel-string and classical guitar interact seamlessly. Juxtaposing original compositions, improvisation, and unlikely arrangements of everything from folk songs to Monk, their duo performances take audiences for a ride through astonishingly diverse terrain. This collaboration is sure to delight! Tickets and further information on the concert can be found at www.MendocinoMusic.org, by calling 707-937-2044, or visit: Andrew York concerts or Venue information.
Andrew York is one of today's best loved composers for classical guitar and a performer of international stature. His compositions blend the styles of ancient eras with modern musical directions, creating music that is at once vital, multi-leveled and accessible. Andrew received a GRAMMY as a member of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet during his sixteen years with the cutting-edge ensemble. His 2010 CD release “Centerpeace” offers individual collaborations with guitarist Andy Summers, and pianists Mitsuko Kado and Allaudin Mathieu. Andrew’s most recent solo recording “Yamour” was released on vinyl as a double LP album, and garnered the number one spot in Acoustic Guitar Magazine’s “Essential Recordings of 2012.”
York's compositions have also been recorded by guitar luminaries Sharon Isbin and Jason Vieaux on their Grammy Award winning recordings, as well as by John Williams and Christopher Parkening, and Japanese pianist Mitsuko Kado. Generations of younger guitarists make Andrew’s music a staple of their repertoire in their performances and studies. As a published composer, York's works appear in print worldwide. He has performed in more than 30 countries with recent concerts including Rome, Bogotá, Beijing, Munich, Manhattan, Finland, Lithuania and Andrew’s twelfth tour of Japan. He received his Master of Music degree from University of Southern California, and is the only USC graduate in the school’s history to twice receive the Outstanding Alumni of the Year Award.
Alex de Grassi was born in Japan, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He switched from trumpet to guitar at the age of 13 and immersed himself in American and British folk and blues traditions, eventually studying jazz and classical guitar. Since then he has become widely acclaimed as a leading innovator and virtuoso of acoustic guitar, fusing a variety of guitar traditions into a highly orchestrated sound. The Wall Street Journal has called his playing “flawless” and Billboard hails his “intricate finger-picking technique with an uncanny gift for melodic invention." His early Windham Hill recordings of original music—Turning: Turning Back, Slow Circle (1979) and Southern Exposure (1984), as well as his GRAMMY nominated recording The Water Garden (1998)— are considered classics of the genre that have influenced a whole generation of young players. His most recent solo recording, Now and Then: Folksongs for the 21st Century, features his contemporary take on traditional folksongs. HIs 35 years of international touring include performances at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Montreux Jazz Festival and numerous international guitar festivals.
DON'T MISS THIS ONE
On June 2nd at Scottish Rites Temple in Oakland, Deva Premal & Miten with Manose are performing...TIX available from "ALIST Solutions LLC", and on June 9th at Oakland's First Congregational Church (Harrison Street nr. 27th Street/proximity of the 19th Street BART station) "Buddhist Rock Star" Ani Choying plus three musicians will perform. [Check out her wonderful offerings on You Tube.] Also, the opening acts are Nubia Texeira performing sacred dance, and a chant invocation offered by Jai Uttal. TIX available from "LloydBarde Productions". P.S. Don't ask me where the Pagan Love Orchestra is nowadays...last saw 'em performing with Jai years back at the American Music Hall. Maybe they dematerialized! ;-)
Letter to Editor
In the Letters section of your issue on May 17, Scott Grogan wrote a screed against organized religion.
His points were well taken and well expressed. I happen to agree with, as he said, "But the fact remains that however far less than God religion is, it has more power over the minds of billions of people than the actual subject of the word, God, has."
Yes, it controls their minds, and they allow it to, because it fills an emotional need. The need to belong, to be in. It doesn't matter, does it, that the wish for immortality is self-deception? It doesn't matter to those billions that the myths of the Abrahamic religions are just that, myths.
But those billions are willing to direct their entire lives on a worldview that is from two thousand years ago.
The world is nothing like it was then; not socially, not economically, not educationally, not scientifically, nothing like it. They live in a different worldview than the present demands. Is it too far out to say that those living in a different worldview, one totally unsuited to our century, are out of touch with reality? Is that how we define insane?
Lee Simon, Flint Hill, Virginia
PS. Death is not a religious event; it is a biological event, period.
HOW TO RIGHT AN ASHBERY POEM
by Louis Bedrock
John Ashbery is the house poet of The New Yorker and NPR.
He is the White people’s Maya Angelou.
The poet of the snot nosed bourgeoisie who prefer cryptograms and acrostics, but who enjoy the edification and prestige of reading a poem now and then: especially one that no one understands.
The poet for people who have read Finnegan’s Wake and enjoyed it.
How to write a verse of an Ashbery poem:
1. Compose four or five sentences that have nothing to do with one another.
2. Three of the sentences should be obscure and abstract, but one should sound common and intimate.
3. Use the secondary and tertiary denotations of words— like “saw” in the example below.
4. Title should suggest relevance and universality, but have nothing to do with the poem.
Pilgrimage by John Ashbery and his friend LB
There’s a simple way out of this.
Familiar to Ukrainian housewives in waiting rooms.
Say hello to Deidre when you next see her.
Grandfathers’ saws may serve on such occasions.
Fulfillment by John Ashbery and his friend LB
These bewildering years pause reluctantly:
I was at the doctor's office Wednesday.
Indonesian philosophers and their women in gossamer:
Arrangements by landscapers and on-line dating services.
FORT BRAGG FIRES PART 4
Who Burned Fort Bragg & Why
by Mark Heimann & Bruce Anderson
The Fort Bragg Fires In Chronological Order:
Agostinos: Sept. 19th, 1986
The Cliff House: July 16th, 1987
The Cliff House: August 4th, 1987
The Fort Bragg Library: Sept. 20th, 1987
The Ten Mile Justice Court: Sept. 20th, 1987
The Piedmont Hotel: Sept. 20th, 1987
The Waterfront (formerly Agostinos): October 18th, 1987
* * *
Lying rides upon debt's back. — John Ray
Well, they hired the money, didn't they? — Calvin Coolidge
Superior Janitorial's distinctive red van was a familiar sight in late night Fort Bragg. Peter Durigan, Superior's owner, went to work about midnight with his wife Irene, formerly Irene Specie. The two Durigans were assisted by a series of young people who helped the couple sweep, mop, scrub, and tidy up businesses as various as several restaurants and bars, both branches of the Savings Bank of Mendocino in Mendocino and Fort Bragg, and even the Pacific Bell Telephone facility in downtown Fort Bragg.
Bill Dunham, the well-known vice-president of the Savings Bank's coast branches, approved the hiring of Durigan as late-night janitor for the two coast banks, both of them overseen by Dunham.
As Mrs. Dunham was going off to work every day as a Fort Bragg elementary school teacher, Mr. Dunham was cutting a wide swath through the more respectable and mostly unattached ladies of the community, among them Phyllis Holmes of the Holmes Lumber family, an association helpful to Dunham as he careened through his day job at the bank and his nights at Coast venues where cocaine was as available as alcohol. Dunham also flew off to the fleshpots of the Bahamas, Mexico and even Thailand where Banker Bill indulged himself in ways that would get him arrested in the United States.
Much of Banker Bill's activity should have gotten him arrested in the United States, but he had convenient friends in the right Mendocino County places. The joke going around the Mendocino Coast at the time was, "Take $50,000 to Bill if you need it hand-laundered." The larger mystery, and no joke, was how was it that there were so many people in a working class town who needed to launder large amounts of drug cash?
It was Dunham's many sins of the flesh that were seized upon by the bad guys, the guys who burned the town's heart out in that arson extravaganza of 1987. The thugs knew Dunham had a big drug problem, knew he was processing drug money, knew he was helping criminals to obtain lucrative parcels of Coast property on the cheap.
By 1986, Fort Bragg had a crooked banker in place at the Savings Bank of Mendocino; a janitorial service operated by a man with a vivid criminal history driving around town late at night delivering drugs and collecting drug money under the auspices of a janitorial service; a large pool of young men and women who were drug dependent and always short of cash; a failed restauranteur who was going broke again; large-scale drug enterprises; and new people in town who seemed to have endless amounts of cash that they were using to buy properties from Albion to Fort Bragg.
With the gang all here, Fort Bragg began to burn.
No one, least of all the one or two Fort Bragg cops who pulled the deep end of the night shift, suspected that "the hard-working big guy" swabbing out the banks and most of the restaurants that burned in 1986 and 1987 was anything but what he appeared to be — a family man pulling long, hard hours to pay his mortgage and feed his wife and children.
Appearances can be deceiving, as the cliche goes. "The hard-working big guy" was certainly a big guy; his weight once approached the piano-case dimensions of 600 pounds. The big guy had tried everything to lose weight — stomach stapling, to prescription drugs, to cocaine. For much of his life, Durigan fought to control his weight. He usually managed to keep himself to a manageable 300. Not surprisingly, by the time he was 40, Durigan was a walking catalog of medical problems. He was still distributing cocaine for the Coast's primary importers when the town began to burn.
Who was the hard working night janitor, the fat man behind the broom?
Peter Durigan was born in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1944. Always a guy who liked working nights, Durigan drove an ambulance contracted by the San Mateo Coroner's office to pick up corpses and haul them to the morgue. He and his co-workers had unchallenged access to the homes of persons who had just died. Durigan and his co-workers supplemented their pay by picking over the corpses and homes of the deceased until they were arrested in 1972.
In return for immunity from prosecution, Durigan testified against his co-conspirators, and a few years later relocated to Fort Bragg with his then-wife, Barbara. The couple divorced in 1982 when their two children were very young.
Barbara Durigan became well-known in the community as an employee of several agencies whose mission it is to help the drug and alcohol-dependent shake their addictions. Mrs. Durigan, post marriage to the corpse-robber, made a new life for herself while her ex continued his crooked, crooked ways in crooked, crooked Fort Bragg.
In 1991, Durigan was arrested and charged with 12 counts of forging or altering prescriptions issued by three different Mendocino County doctors. Represented by Fort Bragg attorney Bart Kronfeld, Durigan pled guilty to one count of illegally obtaining drugs; the other 11 counts were dismissed. A sentencing report said that "Mr. Durigan exhibits compulsive self-destructive behavior followed by remorse followed by repetition of the compulsive self-destructive behavior." Judge Henry Nelson sentenced Durigan to 36 months probation.
Durigan pulled long work hours, and he was certainly devoted to his family, so devoted he picked up hunks of cash routed through Vince Sisco to recruit young men to burn Sisco out of debt and to eliminate restaurant competition for Dominic Affinito, the ultimate beneficiary of the Fort Bragg fires, whether or not he was complicit.
Peter Durigan would later complain that the investigation into the fires of 1986 and 1987 ruined his health, although it was evident he'd ruined his health all by himself from years of over-indulgence in food and pharmaceuticals. The fat man also seemed to be constantly involved in high-risk, high-stress illegal activity, which surely couldn't have added much to his well-being. His Social Security number, for instance, is shared by nearly a dozen persons, all of them fictitious. What else Durigan was doing besides coordinating arson fires and selling dope, is not known.
Peter Durigan had had at least one major heart attack, and, at age 51, he died of the final one that carried him off at 9am on September 19th, 1995. He was in his home at 21590 Forester Lane, Fort Bragg. He was cremated the same day, and his ashes scattered the day after that.
Vince Sisco paid Peter Durigan to set fires in Fort Bragg, but Durigan was too large and immobile to commit arson himself so he recruited young Fort Bragg men to start the fires for him while he kept most of the cash for himself.
From the fall of 1986 until the fall of 1987, Durigan drove up and down Fort Bragg's Main Street coordinating arson fires along an almost straight north-south line from Gas 'N Grub north of town to the Cliff House at the south end.
Also at the south end of town, and just across the Noyo from the failing Cliff House, Vince Sisco was going broke at Agostinos where Sisco was in business under his daughter's name, having bought an agreement worth $75,000 not to compete with Tom Wisdom who was now doing very well operating Sisco's and Finnegan's old restaurant, The Wharf, down below in the harbor.
The $75,000 Sisco had paid Wisdom to buy back his promise not to compete within ten miles, Sisco had borrowed from his daughter and her husband, who'd had to mortgage their home to get the money.
Sisco owed everyone from his bookkeeper, Ruth Johnston, to the IRS. And he was way behind on his mortgage payments to the Sollini family from whom he'd purchased the already fire-damaged restaurant on the north cliff of the Noyo which he re-opened as Agostinos. Sisco was also into the Savings Bank of Mendocino for thousands of dollars loaned by the bank's high flying coast manager, Bill Dunham.
Dunham was already very close to the Affinitos who had just opened a competing restaurant across the Noyo from Sisco called the Cliff House, the restaurant Dunham had rehabbed with bank money for its previous owner, the unfortunate Mr. Johnson of Willits. The City of Fort Bragg was always after Sisco to do one thing or another he couldn't afford to do on his Agostino place. He was drowning in debt and, as he had before, to pay off his creditors, he burned his properties down.
Sandra Tonstad nee Sisco, did in fact work very hard at the revived Agostinos, but Dad's crude financial maneuverings — and constant till-tapping from the business' cash flow — trapped Sandra and everyone else who worked at the place in the fiscal quicksand her father created everywhere he went. The only person who wasn't after Sisco for one thing or another was Peter Durigan, the man who cleaned Agostinos at night.
Durigan had a pretty good year in 1985. He took in nearly $50,000 in gross receipts from his late night enterprise, but deposited only half that amount with his friend Bill Dunham at the Savings Bank, keeping some $21,000 in cash. The cash came from drug sales and arson commissions partially laundered through janitorial receipts.
Increasingly desperate, Sisco began to talk to the boys across the Noyo River, Dominic and Mario Affinito, about buying Agostinos from him. The Affinitos had long been interested in the place as an adjunct to their Dunham-expedited restaurant, the Cliff House, which was itself soon to be torched twice in Durigan-facilitated fires from which the Affinitos emerged well in the black.
The Affinitos wanted to buy Agostinos but they didn't want to meet Sisco's price. There are people who say they heard Dominic Affinito tell Sisco that Agostinos was worth more in cinders than standing. Sisco, a man whose businesses seemed synonymous with arson, hardly needed the suggestion, if that's what it was.
With 1986 only three months old, and Agostinos in serious financial trouble, Sisco approached a voluble Vietnam vet by the name of Robert Montini and asked him to burn both Agostinos and the Cliff House. "The guy's had a hard time," is how an acquaintance of Montini's assesses Montini's criminal potential. "He's the last guy you'd want to ask to commit a serious crime on your behalf because he talks too much."
In June of 1986, Bernard and Sandra Tonstad insured Agostinos for $500,000. The policy cost them a little over $10,000 for the year. Ten thousand was a very big bargain, as it turned out.
Agostinos went up in flames on the night of September 19th, 1986. Peter Durigan was seen behind the wheel of his distinctive red janitorial van on South Main Street just as the flames became visible.
In the months before the fire, Sisco had pulled large sums out of cash out of his magic purse, a purse assumed large enough to contain kilos of cocaine. By the time Agostinos went up in flames, Sisco had miraculously become current with his numerous creditors, but he was still being pursued by local officials who had the impertinence to demand that he get into compliance with local building codes. Sisco got nothing but grief from the Milliman-led Fort Bragg City Hall while the Affinitos got the red carpet from the same set of officials, at least one of whom, Andre Schade, they'd 'loaned' money to.
Early on the morning of September 19th, 1986, Agostinos was severely damaged by fire. The official cause was put down as a "smoldering cigarette." Ten days later the IRS placed a lien on Agostinos for back taxes in the amount of $66,284.38. In October, the City of Fort Bragg sent out a registered letter to Tonstad, with a copy to her father, Vincent Sisco, spelling out the conditions of a re-build. Frank Filice, Fort Bragg's Community Development Director, told Tonstad-Sisco they'd have to install a sprinkler system this time because repairs to the torched Agostinos would cost a lot more than the restaurant's assessed value.
But three months after the timely fire at Agostinos, in February of 1987, the Tonstads collected $220,000 from the insurance company and everyone got paid who had to be paid so they could reopen their business..
By April of 1987 the Tonstads and Sisco were again in business on the north cliff, this time as the Waterfront Bar and Grill.
"Sisco was elated," an employee recalls. "He said he was really going to make it this time."
But the City of Fort Bragg, with its Affinito-friendly administrator Gary Milliman leading the charge, told Sisco he was doing business without a license and that he wouldn't get a license until he got into compliance with various building codes. And there was that IRS lien for slightly more than $66,000 against whatever Sisco called his business; that lien hung over Sisco's toupee-covered head like the blade of guillotine.
And his star cook quit.
Sisco, helpful fire and all, was right back up to his rug in debt.
Across the Noyo on the south cliff, the Affinitos seemed to be doing well at the Cliff House restaurant when it was set on fire July 16th, 1987, the fire being called in at 3:25am and almost just as quickly extinguished.
Before the young Fort Bragg men who set these fires began to die or disappear, three of them said that Affinito's Cliff House was supposed to be partially burned so it would be closed for only a few months. Which made no sense to anybody except, perhaps, Sisco, if Sisco was signaling his rival on the south bank that he could play hardball, too.
The Cliff House wasn't even closed for a day, but the incompetent arsonists who'd torched it had been paid in advance by Ken Rick, Peter Durigan's sub-contractor for arson fires.
Peter Durigan, in July of 1987, solicited Rick, a 26-year-old Fort Bragg man, to burn the Cliff House, the Piedmont Hotel, Vince Sisco's Waterfront restaurant, and The Wharf restaurant down in Noyo harbor. Rick would later be airily dismissed by District Attorney Susan Massini as a "transient" and was occasionally employed by Durigan as a janitor.
Ken Rick was not a transient. He had been born and raised in Fort Bragg. His parents are hardworking, decent people as mystified as any other set of grieving parents at their son's descent into the drugs that placed him in the proximity of ruthless people. But his problems never took the work ethic out of Ken Rick; he was never unemployed for very long; he got up and went to work at whatever he could find before he killed himself in 1991, if suicide is what happened to him. Rick may have been murdered to prevent him from testifying before a Federal Grand Jury, which he was scheduled to do the very next day in San Francisco.
Ken "Kenny" Rick, criminal events involving him aside, was not a criminally-oriented person. In an earlier time he'd have been able to look forward to a lifetime of work at the Georgia-Pacific mill at a middleclass wage, but by the time he came along there weren't life time jobs at the mill available to Fort Bragg High School's graduating classes. The mill was steadily cutting back production at a time drug use had already grabbed many of the town's young people. But Ken Rick was always employed at something, until that last something put him in way over his head.
Durigan told Rick that Sisco wanted Fort Bragg's most popular restaurants burned. It seemed that Sisco thought that if his Waterfront went up in flames along with three of his competitors, the authorities would perceive him simply as one more victim of a pyromaniac with a thing about restaurants.
That seemed to be the thinking, but people close to the investigation are convinced that there were much smarter, much more dangerous people behind Sisco and Durigan, because as the fires began, a ripple of terror moved through the Mendocino Coast's drug community that instills real fear to this day. Sisco and Durigan didn't scare anybody by themselves. Sisco was regarded as a dummy and a "sleazebag," while Durigan was regarded as a sort of cripple only good for dope and a few nights' employment cleaning businesses around town.
But Durigan had often been underestimated and would fool people again and again. Sisco, too. And Dominic Affinito was smarter than all of Fort Bragg put together.
The offer from Sisco via Durigan to Ken Rick was $5,000 for each restaurant except for the Waterfront. Rick would get $10,000 for torching it. Sisco would be first among victims; he always thought he was better at the restaurant business than these other people even if he was always going broke.
Ensuing events occurred in a sort of cocaine frenzy. We're not talking clearheaded plotters here; we're talking the kind of people so limited but brazen they were sure to get caught and prosecuted.
But this was Mendocino County where bad things done by bad people were eminently doable in 1987, thanks to a suspiciously indifferent District Attorney, Susan Massini, and a cadre of local lawyers who roll over and say "arf" at the sight of cash customers. Add to the awol DA and greedy lawyers, add a superior court perennially in thrall to Mendocino County's primary institutions — particularly the Savings Bank of Mendocino — and, of course, the usual gaggle of incompetents and clowns functioning as supervisors. Add it all up and pass it along to a Mendocino County Grand Jury unable to decode a very simple, nearly retarded, criminal conspiracy, and you've got a paying crime, a series of paying crimes, none of them solved.
Oddly enough, especially considering the social-political context of 1987, law enforcement, especially the Fort Bragg Police Department under former chiefs Mayberry and Bickell, did an excellent job investigating the arsons. They solved the case in a month. They knew who did it, and they knew why it had been done. Unfortunately, the Fort Bragg Police Department doesn't have prosecutorial powers. That's for the DA, and she was hands-off, and always would be hands-off where Dominic Affinito was concerned.
Rick told Durigan he didn't want to set fires himself, but he'd find someone who would. By the time the fires ended, probably 50 people in and around Fort Bragg knew who did what, and for how much. Durigan assured Rick that the four restaurants could easily be set ablaze early in the morning during the time Durigan was cleaning the telephone company's office because, Durigan said, he knew how to pull the plug on the phone line to the Fort Bragg Fire Department; after all, he cleaned the place every night.
Early in July of 1987, Ken Rick tried to talk an old friend of his, Gary Cudney, into setting the fires. They'd discussed the job over cocaine and beer while visiting a mutual Fort Bragg friend named Dave Roberts.
The next day, Cudney, having declined the offer to pick up a couple grand burning his home town restaurants, went to see a Fort Bragg man named Gilbert Gudmundson who Cudney thought might be interested in the matches and gasoline end of arson. Gudmundson quickly agreed to risk a minimum of ten years in jail for an amount of money believed to be about $2,500. He talked over the how-to specifics with Ken Rick, sub-contractor to Durigan, the fat man being the co-ordinator and mobile command post for the Fort Bragg arsons.
Rick soon had Gudmundson on board for the proposed arson spree and Gudmundson, apparently excited at the prospect of quick and easy money, recruited his nephew Shawn, a registered member of the Green Party, as assistant arsonist, Fort Bragg Division. Maybe Shawn could get the job done without resorting to polluting chemicals.
These days Gary Cudney lives in a secluded old trailer on a coast ridge. He's a stocky man with blue eyes that betray hurt and suspicion, like a mistreated dog. "How the hell did you find me?" he snarled. "All that was a long time ago. I want to forget that part of my life. Why do you want to dig that up? I told the police every thing I know. I didn't burn anything. Kenny did it."
Kenny did some of it, not all of it.
On the morning of July 16th, 1987, the fire at the Cliff House was set by Gil and Shawn Gudmundson. Gil and Shawn had been seen after midnight at the Affinitos' Gas 'N Grub on the north end of Fort Bragg where they filled a large plastic container with gasoline. The Gas 'N Grub, the only gas station in Fort Bragg that was open all night, would also serve as logistics command post in September when the Piedmont Hotel, the Fort Bragg library and Ten Mile Justice Court were all destroyed by fire.
Buy a container of gasoline at Gas 'N Grub, drive to site, ignite gasoline on premises. This was the M.O. for all the Fort Bragg fires. The brazen simplicity of the plan — if it could even be called a plan — was breathtaking.
That July night, Gil and Shawn Gudmundson drove south to the Cliff House where Gil dropped Shawn off with the container of gasoline. Shawn emptied the gasoline at the back door of the restaurant and, with a fuse consisting of a lighted cigarette aimed at a match extended from its book, Shawn then walked around to the front of the Cliff House where Gil had reappeared in a car the Gudmundsons had borrowed from a woman named Virginia McNeil. The two would-be arsonists then drove out onto Todd's Point to admire the ensuing fireworks.
The cigarette apparently burned down and lit the book of matches, but the fire fizzled.
Durigan, as always up and around and on the job whether criminal or legitimate, was angry with his sub-contractor, Ken Rick, for hiring people to burn the Cliff House who hadn't managed to burn it severely enough to close it for the period of time the true arsonists wanted it closed for — long enough to collect interruption of business and remodel insurance in amounts greater than loss of business and a quick remodel would cost.
Apparently not too upset by the bungled arson at the Cliff House, Durigan asked Rick to recruit the Gudmundsons to burn The Wharf, suggesting pre-dawn Sunday and Monday mornings as the primo times to accomplish the task. But Durigan was still grumbling about the botched job on the Cliff House, which opened for business the same day the Gudmundsons tried to burn it. Durigan warned Rick that Sisco had "people in the city who would take care of him" if he ever said anything about these first stumbling arsons — if in fact they were the first. The old Agostinos seems to have been the first in September of 1986.
Ken Rick gave the Gudmundsons a certain amount of money — not much more than $2,000. Rick had gotten the cash from Durigan for the Gudmundsons to burn The Wharf. The Gudmundsons, however, took the money and ran off to Nevada, and then Wyoming, where it is known they got a traffic ticket. The Gudmundsons were afraid, very afraid, and have made themselves very scarce ever since, although they are in and out of Fort Bragg on a regular basis.
Rick was also scared. Everyone involved in these events was scared, and they're still scared. Dominic Affinito, whether or not he was the ultimate pupeteer, is the name that puts the fear into everyone, not Sisco. But Ken Rick was scared to death, and death was what he got because now he owed the bad guys for fires that hadn't been set.
The Gudmundsons failed to ignite the Cliff House on July 16th, but the restaurant did burn satisfactorily less than a month later. On August 4th at 4:37am the Cliff House, managed by Mario Affinito, was damaged by an arson fire which kept it closed for six months. The Affinitos, after a prolonged legal struggle with their insurers, collected almost a million dollars in damages, including interruption of business fees.
"Nobody," Mario Affinito said at the time the Cliff House burned, "burns down a gold mine restaurant. My restaurant was making money. It was filled every night."
Burned or unburned, the gold mine produced the nuggets.
The Cliff House planned to expand, business was so good. Plans for the expansion had been approved two months before the Cliff House was profitably torched the second time.
The night watchman at the trailer park just above the Cliff House the night it finally burned well enough to make more money closed than open, saw Peter Durigan in the Cliff House parking lot just before the fire was reported. Durigan later told police he'd just happened to stop there to urinate. "It was the first time in my life I'd ever peed by the side of the road," the fastidious fat man told the police.
This lame excuse for proximity to a major fire in a building he had no legitimate reason to be near was laughable. In fact, Durigan had stopped near the Cliff House to drop off his nephew, P.J. Kreidler with, guess what? a container of gasoline. Unable to rely on Ken Rick and his friends to get the Cliff House burned down, Durigan had gotten his nephew, Kreidler, to do it. One witness to the second Cliff House fire says he saw Durigan himself walk into the kitchen of the Cliff House while workers were cleaning up at the end of the night the night the restaurant was set on fire for the second time.
These things are best kept in the family, it seems. Kreidler, an ex-con still on parole when he arrived in Fort Bragg to work janitorial with Uncle Pete, would also help Uncle Pete attempt to burn down Vince Sisco's Waterfront just across the Noyo from the Cliff House.
The Cliff House burned in August, downtown Fort Bragg went up in September, Vince Sisco's Waterfront almost went up in October. Kreidler's a wiry little guy an acquaintance describes as "a mean, low-down little bastard who'll do anything." The low down little bastard is said to be in Oregon or Washington these days, on the lam for various run-ins with various authorities in several states. Kreidler is known to have children in the Fort Bragg area with two different women.
Approaching the Halloween season on the Mendocino Coast, the Cliff House had been set on fire twice in the month of August, but the gang that couldn't ignite straight had so far been unable to burn The Wharf down in Noyo Harbor where a night watchman had been hired by the ever-vigilant Jim Cummings who owned the building housing the restaurant. Sisco was going seriously broke up on the north cliff at his revived Agostinos now open again as the Waterfront.
Milliman was still after Sisco, the IRS was also nipping at his heels, his chief cook had quit, and Sisco was deeper in debt each day. As if that wasn't bad enough for a guy looking at his golden years, the incompetents he thought he'd paid to pour gasoline on his restaurant and put a match to the place so he could get some insurance money hadn't got it done. If the torches could finally get it together to burn the Waterfront down, Sisco, a career culinary Phoenix, might have enough money to again rise from the ashes. Or at least get out of Fort Bragg with a few bucks in his pocket. Even Sisco's famous white Cadillac was acting up so often it was in the shop more than it was on the road.
While Sisco was waiting for Durigan or Durigan's sub-contractors to burn his Waterfront restaurant, just before dawn on September 20th, 1987, the Fort Bragg Library, the old Ten Mile Justice Court next door to the library, and the Piedmont Hotel were destroyed by fire.
Peter Durigan orchestrated them all.
Ken Rick entered the Fort Bragg Library at the corner of Main and Laurel through its old wooden back door in the building's northwest corner at about 5am. He piled up papers and lit them on fire. Three blocks south at the Piedmont Hotel a man believed to be P.J. Kreidler had gained entrance to the old hotel's kitchen.
The fire in the library was spotted at 5:10am by officer Scott Mayberry of the Fort Bragg Police Department as he drove north to Gas 'N Grub in response to a phone call from Durigan to police dispatch that "a hippie driving a Volkswagon van was driving around shooting at dogs." Mayberry called in the fire at the library exactly at 5:10am. The strapping young officer did not see any dog-shooting hippies in the area of Gas 'N Grub or anywhere else at that end of Main Street.
Eight minutes later, the Piedmont Hotel went up. A number of people called it in, the first call arriving at 5:18am.
Erected just after World War One, the Piedmont burned hot and fast. It was the target. Burn down the competition, was the master plan. The Fort Bragg Library was set as a diversion. The Piedmont was the target. The library and the Ten Mile Justice Court next door were valued at $2.5 million but contained the entire historical repository of Fort Bragg.
The Fort Bragg Library, torched as a side show to distract firefighters while the Piedmont Hotel was set on fire down the street, burned so ferociously the great south windows of the Ten Mile Justice Court next door imploded and its telephones melted. A large crowd, including librarian Sylvia Kozak-Budd, gathered at the corner of Laurel and Main to watch the library die.
"We stood across the street from the fire," Kozak-Budd recalls. "We stood on this corner. People came up to us. It was exactly like a reception after a funeral. People would come up and tell me when they got their first library card; they would come up and say, 'Where am I going to get my Westerns?'"
Peter Durigan made at least two phony police calls that night. He'd called to say he saw a "hippie" on a pre-dawn dog hunt north of town in the general vicinity of Gas 'N Grub, and he called the Fort Bragg Police to report that the Pacific Bell office was on fire. The phone company was not on fire, and there were no subsequent reports of hippies shooting dogs anywhere in or around Fort Bragg.
By 8 am, the history of Fort Bragg was gone. The old library with its splendid archives, Ten Mile Justice Court with its records going back almost 150 years, and the splendid Piedmont Hotel, where generations of coast families had enjoyed everything from holiday meals to wedding receptions — the heart of the town had been burned out of it.
Imagine a library being burned as a diversion! And a poor diversion at that since the diversion was within sight of the crook's real target, the Piedmont Hotel.
The victims of the fires were the first suspects — Vince Sisco of Agostinos, which had burned in 1986 and had risen anew as the Waterfront; Dominic and Mario Affinito, who operated the Cliff House, which also was burned twice; and Jerry Ware of the Piedmont Hotel.
Ware was cleared of suspicion almost immediately. Among other reasons he had not to burn down the Piedmont, his youngest daughter was being married the day of the fire, and the banquet room was filled with food for the big event. Within hours after the fires, friends of the Wares ran home and turned on their ovens, returning a few hours later with a replacement wedding feast. Ware escorted the new bride through a field on his modest ranch north of town as the Piedmont smoldered.
Jerry Ware had devoted 27 years to the Piedmont, a Fort Bragg institution that had been visited and enjoyed by people from all over the world. Irreplaceable photographs from Fort Bragg's colorful past had lined its walls.
The late Mario Affinito, who in 1987, with his father Dominic, ran a raft of Fort Bragg businesses including the Cliff House, Tradewinds Lodge, a t-shirt shop called Sand Dollar Special T's, Gas 'n Grub, and a bed-and-breakfast called the Glass Beach Inn, was bitter about the two fires at the Cliff House. "To not prosecute felony arson for lack of money is the most bullshit excuse I've ever heard," he said when the investigation fizzled and the statute of limitations on the fires had run. "I'm not the only guy who was affected; I had thirty people working for me who were put out of work, I've got suppliers who lost business. The Feds look like idiots and the D.A.'s office looks like clowns."
To make matters worse, Mario said, "my good name was dragged through the mud."
Locals speculated about the Affinitos' involvement in the fires, based on rumors about the Affinitos' large business and real estate holdings in town, their coziness with the City Council and on a large loan they had made to Andre Schade, a Fort Bragg City Councilman. Mario eventually volunteered to take a polygraph and passed it. "Nobody burns down a gold mine restaurant," he repeated. "My restaurant was making money. It was filled every night." For four months the Affinitos battled with their insurance company and finally went to arbitration. "In the end we used our own money," Mario says, "and we sued those bastards later."
Almost immediately after the big night of September 20th, 1987, Ken Rick began talking. He told investigators everything, including the planned sequence of events. The Waterfront still hadn't burned, but it and The Wharf were still on an active list of restaurants for Peter Durigan's special Gas 'N Grub early morning cleansing.
What Ken Rick didn't tell investigators was that the person behind all the fires was very angry about the Gudmundsons running away with the money Rick paid them to burn the Cliff House. It is also believed that Rick owed "an Affinito" — that was the name — for a pound of cocaine. Rick had to participate in the September 20th fires because he owed people who had to be paid.
Why was the Piedmont burned? Simply to destroy competition in Fort Bragg's restaurant business. The person behind the fires wanted his restaurants to succeed even if it meant burning other businesses and killing people.
Incredibly, even with Rick talking to the authorities, the fires continued! The very heart and history of Fort Bragg had been reduced to cinders the morning of September 20th but a month later, on October 18th, early in the morning of course, Durigan and his little helper, P.J. Kreidler, went for Vince Sisco's Waterfront on the north cliff of the Noyo.
Durigan's unmistakable red cleaning truck was observed at Gas 'N Grub by the cashier, a woman named Flo Waszack who also occasionally did cleaning for Durigan's janitorial business. Ms. Waszack was at the cash register when Waszack said Durigan had been stopped by a Fort Bragg police officer because his headlights and brake lights were out. Durigan had switched to his wife's car to finish the night's cleaning jobs, one of which, he claimed, was on distant Mountainview Road above Manchester where there are no businesses of the type that require late-night cleaning.
A little after four in the morning that October 18th, with arson going from the tragic loss of the library, court and the town's oldest hotel to low farce, officer Fournier of the Fort Bragg Police Department drove on routine patrol beneath the Waterfront (which rested on piers) where gasoline dripped from the gasoline drenched floor of the restaurant onto the young policeman's windshield. Fournier may have thought the evening's fog was driven by unleaded regular rather than the usual Pacific winds, but another bungled arson was underway above him, and with gasoline running down his windshield, officer Fournier drove on.
At about 3am, the Fort Bragg PD took a call from Durigan at his usual command post at Gas 'N Grub. Durigan said his nephew, P.J., diligently at his janitorial duties as always, had entered the Waterfront to clean it only to discover the floor covered with gasoline. P.J. naturally informed Uncle Pete before calling the police or the fire department, because Unc would know exactly how to proceed.
What in fact happened was that Durigan had been spotted by at least two people dropping Kreidler off with a gasoline can at the Waterfront. The plan was to soak the place with the trusty inflammable, which would soon be ignited by the pilot light from a stove or water heater. When the pair knew they'd been spotted, Durigan, a good citizen, called the Fort Bragg PD to tell them someone was trying to burn down the Waterfront.
Sisco, who had been absolutely jubilant the morning Affinito's Cliff House across the Noyo had gone up in flames, had been trying to get the Affinitos to buy the Waterfront from him. The Affinitos broke off negotiations with Sisco after the arson attempt on the Waterfront. They knew Sisco was going under for sure now that the fire he'd hoped to bail himself out with had failed; he'd be even more desperate for cash. The Affinitos would be able to pick up Sisco's property on the other side of the Noyo for the proverbial song. ´´
Next: The Death of Ken Rick and How The Failed Investigation Failed — Who Failed It and Why.
* * *
FORT BRAGG FIRES Part 5
DA, Feds, Fiddle While Fort Bragg Burns
by Mark Heimann & Bruce Anderson
It has been two years and one month since the Fort Bragg library was burned to the ground at the corner of Main and Laurel. The arson also destroyed the adjacent Ten Mile Justice Court. Just down the street, the torches burned down a third landmark -- the Piedmont Hotel.
The cocaine incendiaries had burned the library and the courthouse to get at the Piedmont. The library and the courthouse were mere diversions to draw attention from the arsonist at work in the Piedmont. Firefighters battling to save the library and the Ten Mile Court, looked down the street to see the Piedmont fully engulfed in flame.
In eleven months it will be too late to prosecute the villainous crew who did it because the statute of prosecutorial limitations for the crime of arson, even serial arsons like these, will have run. The crooks will have gotten away with it.
At this point, and unofficially, some $100,000 in local investigative time has been invested in trying to pin down enough information to take the case to trial. Additionally, the ATF has investigated the fires and the FBI has had a team on the case. The county's Sheriff's Department has pitched in, and the Fort Bragg Police Department has done its share and more to identify the persons responsible. Locals joked that there were more FBI and ATF agents walking around town in their agency windbreakers than there were tourists.
Much of the information is confidential until it hits the courtroom, and nobody wants to jeopardize the case. But two years is a long time to wait for answers when the right questions were asked of the right people within a month of the big event. And as spectacular and as destructive as the fires were, Fort Bragg has moved on. The town has a new library, is closer to having the old courthouse restored as a community events building, and there's a comprehensive landscape plan for the grounds where the old library stood. A quarter mile down Main Street, wildflowers cover the lot where the Piedmont Hotel once stood.
Life has gone on in Fort Bragg, but the fire remains major unfinished business. If it remains unfinished, blame the District Attorney's office of Susan Massini. What hope can the DA have in re-election if the biggest criminal case in Mendocino County history remains un
The normally somnolent Fort Bragg Advocate News, editorialized in October 1989, that DA Massini would have to campaign before the June, 1990 election before the statute of limitations on the spectacular crimes runs out the following September.
Of the 40,862 registered voters in Mendocino County, 16,128 live on the Coast in the 4th and 5th districts. That's 39.47% of the vote. Can Massini successfully gain re-election with the crimes unresolved? The Advocate thundered, "Don't look for pre-election promises. Look for that case to go to trial."
District Attorney Susan Massini was easily re-elected in 1990; she ran unopposed. And the Fort Bragg arsons never made it to court, although a very strong case was ready to go.
The "victims" of the arsons -- Vince Sisco, the Affinitos and Jerry Ware of the Piedmont Hotel -- never made a single phone call to Ukiah demanding that the arsonists be pursued and prosecuted. None of the "victims" lost money on the fires; indeed, they all came out ahead — in the case of the Affinitos, way ahead.
Neither Sisco nor the Affinitos, although their businesses had been torched twice, took steps to protect their property against late-night visitors carrying containers of Gas 'N' Grub gasoline.. No evidence was ever turned up to even remotely implicate Ware in the destruction of the Piedmont Hotel whose ground floor premises he leased to operate a successful restaurant and bar. Ware said he was adequately insured "but far from over-insured."
The persons directly responsible for the fires -- Vince Sisco, Peter Durigan, Ken Rick, Gilbert and Shawn Gudmundson, P.J. Kreidler, and, perhaps, Gary Cudney -- were known to the authorities within a month of the three arsons that destroyed the library, the court and the Piedmont Hotel. Sisco refused to cooperate with the investigation while Durigan promised to cooperate, but when cooperation time arrived, appeared with his lawyer, Bart Kronfeld, to announce he had nothing to say.
But Ken Rick talked.
At first Rick talked because he thought he might be able to get the reward money by fingering Sisco as Mr. Big, who of course was a key player, but not the franchise, not Mr. Big. Ken Rick knew who the most dangerous person involved was and wanted no part of him. The word on the street was that anybody who got in the way of the drug transactions or property deals of the main man of the arsons, that person would be murdered.
The Gudmundsons prudently ran away and hid for a long time, and even now are extremely circumspect when they visit Fort Bragg. Gary Cudney talked to the police but never would talk to the media about the case; he remains deeply fearful of the fires' architect. P.J. Kreidler headed north without ever being asked an impertinent question by the authorities, not that he waited around for them to come knocking. Ken Rick stayed in Fort Bragg, his home town, and because he didn't run Rick may have paid with his life.
What happened to the investigation? Why weren't the indentified culprits arrested and prosecuted?
Bureaucratic inertia is one reason. Official indifference at the level of DA Susan Massini over the hill in Ukiah and an equivalent indifference in the US Attorney's office in San Francisco were big factors. And, it seems, the bad guys had convenient friends in high places.
The Fort Bragg police knew within days who did the fires. The why of no prosecution was more complicated. Rather than simply squeeze the identified arsonists and working up from them to what an ironist might call the "masterminds" if the crimes had been any more complicated than the incendiary equivalent of a smash and grab robbery, then-chief Mayberry called in the feds to help unravel what was clearly a more complicated conspiracy involving well-connected criminals with the resources and ruthlessness to defend themselves against all comers.
The feds investigated for a year before turning over their findings to Susan Massini. Mendocino County had first dibs on jurisdiction. Massini sat on the case for another year before she turned it over to her assistant, Myron Sawicki. Sawicki worked on it for nearly a year before Massini took it back to the feds and asked them to prosecute it. The feds sat on it one last time before tossing it back to Massini in Ukiah.
By the time it got back to Mendocino County for the last time, there was about a month to go before the sand in the statute of limitation's clock ran all the way out.
Thousands of hours and perhaps as much as $2 million were spent at all levels of the investigation before the case was permanently filed in that mysterious place where the people who paid for it, American taxpayers, can never see for themselves a sad story of official neglect. The attitude of prosecutors at both the Mendocino County and the federal level was: "Fort Bragg? Who cares?"
At the Mendocino County level, District Attorney Susan Massini blithely remarked to a reporter, "It wasn't as if voters were beating down my door to get me to prosecute. Until late in 1990, there was little pressure to prosecute the case. There were no letters to the editor, no phone calls. There was no hue and cry, no demand for action."
Yeah, Sue, but crimes aren't a popularity contest. Crimes are crimes, and it's your job to investigate and prosecute them.
Perhaps because people assumed, after all the activity they'd seen around town from nearly 50 investigators who arrived in Fort Bragg soon after the the heart and soul of their town went up in flames, that the case was proceeding, was finally going to court.
But the DA, in a classic case of blame-the-victims, said it was Fort Bragg's fault for not demanding that she do her job!
Sylvia Kozak-Budd is still heartsick at the loss of the library she'd devoted much of her working life to. She probably represented most people in Fort Bragg when she said, "I'm a midwestern child of the 1950s. I believed implicitly in the criminal justice system. I didn't worry about it. I thought, My god, these important guys from the FBI, these bomb people are here. They know how to solve these things."
Kozak-Budd initially assumed the library fire was the work of a deranged person. "It never occurred to any of us that this was anything but an evil, malicious act directed toward the library. I took it very personally. I was afraid for a month that someone was going to burn down my home, that my animals would die. I woke up every morning at 4am in a panic attack for weeks and weeks afterwards."
At the police level there was outrage. And there still is. "Basically, thugs from the Sacramento Valley rode into town to buy up property, sell dope, burn out their competitors, and thumb their noses at us," is how one investigator put it as recently as last week.
Les Pierce, who'd been assigned by the Fort Bragg Police Department to work with Bill Mallory, the man in charge of the ATF's 30-person investigative team, told the local media back in 1991 that he didn't think "the story will ever come out."
Pierce is widely believed to have resigned from his job in disgust at the lack of prosecution of the case. He is also said to have been terribly depressed at the death of Ken Rick, the primary witness in the case. "We know exactly what happened," Pierce forthrightly declared more than eight years ago now. "I can walk downtown and pass people on the street who signed confessions saying what they burned and what they were paid. But in respect to the California Judicial system, we have no right to say what we know because no one was ever charged in a court of law. That's the part some of us have to live with for the rest of our lives."
Pierce resigned from his cop job and went to work as a truck driver. He still lives in the Fort Bragg area.
Susan Massini, right up to her final month in office, made excuses for not opening up her files on the case. "Because there may have been a murder involved, the case is still open so a lot of the evidence is still confidential." But only weeks later, she said at a candidate's night in Philo that the case was not prosecuted "because there was insufficient evidence."
The results of the federal part of the investigation will never be made public. They were even kept from the Mendocino County Grand Jury who heard the case in 1991 after pawing through the 26 boxes of evidence amassed on the fires by the Fort Bragg Police Department and the DA's office. The Grand Jury concluded that it found "no evidence of a conspiracy to obstruct justice," but that "lack of cooperation, lack of direction, and lack of consistent effort might suggest to the casual observer that such a conspiracy existed." The Grand Jury pointed vaguely to the "inertia of some officials" without naming those officials.
The Mendocino County Grand Jury in all its modern history has never indicted a local official.
The US Attorney at the time, William McGivern, said the death of Ken Rick in 1990 had wrecked prosecution of the case. Congressman Frank Riggs relayed McGivern's weasely and demonstrably false reason for the federal disinterest in the case to Ed Kowas one morning on Kowas's KMFB talk show. Riggs told Kowas's coast radio audience that "without Ken Rick there is no case."
There certainly was a case without Ken Rick because he and at least three of his fellow arsonists had long before told investigators exactly what happened, who paid them, and who had paid their paymaster, the late Peter Durigan.
Durigan got the money for the fires from Vince Sisco; Durigan paid Ken Rick to set the fires. Rick looked around for assistant arsonists and found them in Gil and Shawn Gudmundson and maybe Gary Cudney. (Cudney denies all involvement in the arsons, although he implicated the Gudmundsons.) When Rick and the Gudmundsons failed to adequately carry out the torching of the Affinitos' Cliff House in the summer of 1987, Durigan got his nephew, P.J. Kreidler, to do it.
This fumbling apparatus had also been commissioned to burn down The Wharf restaurant in Noyo harbor but was unable to pull it off because people with guns were sleeping in the place when it wasn't open. One of those persons was the man who owned the structure housing the restaurant, Jim Cummings.
The big fire spree of Sunday, September 20, 1987, was supposed to make all the fires look like the work of a pyromaniac, thus diverting attention from the true perpetrators.
There is ample evidence that Vince Sisco and Peter Durigan were working for a far more clever and much more ruthless coast entrepreneur. When the fires finally ended in 1990 with the arson fire at the Reed Manor Inn in Mendocino, an arson fire only tangentially related to those up the road in Fort Bragg, Dominic Affinito had emerged with his restaurant businesses enhanced, a commercially-zoned ocean view property he'd bought cheap, and a friendly Fort Bragg City Council even more inclined to give the arson-lucky Affinito everything else he wanted. The Fort Bragg City Council was so fond of Affinito that when Patti Campbell, a member of the council, went over the hill to Ukiah as 4th District supervisor, Affinito got to build the county's coast offices, which he leases back to the county for much more money than it would have cost the county to build its own offices in Fort Bragg.
Ken Rick had begun talking to investigators within a week of the fires. He'd been urged by his girl friend to come forward and get it all behind him. Rick had just become a father and he desperately wanted to be a real father. He wanted to leave the joyless murk of drugs and badly paid crime behind him. He was still young, and he had a new family to support. Rick was not a thug and didn't want to pretend to be one as a career.
The Fort Bragg Fire Department, immediately after the September, 1987, blazes, asked the State Fire Marshal for help. Monte McGill, whose investigations would later be described as "flawless" by attorneys assigned to the case, went right to work. McGill proved beyond all doubt the fires had been deliberately set. The State Fire Marshal then enlisted the assistance of the ATF to re-check his findings. ATF dispatched two top agents who in turn summoned what the ATF calls its National Response Team -- all 30 of them. By the first week of October, 1987, there were about 40 people -- 32 of them from the ATF alone -- in Fort Bragg, all of them investigating the fires. At least two FBI agents were also in town to help track down the arsonists.
"They were all over the place," a local recalls, "talking into portable phones and sticking out like sore thumbs. It was almost funny."
The ATF contingent brought everything they needed to track down the crooks except for stenographers. The mob of sleuths, including the FBI agents, took their investigative findings to Fort Bragg City Hall to be transcribed. The persons believed to be directly involved in the fires were also interrogated at City Hall. Polygraph tests were administered there, too. The ATF delegation stayed at the Affinitos' Tradewinds motel, although the Affinitos' Cliff House had burned twice and the Affinitos were among the persons supposedly being investigated.
ATF agents enjoyed themselves evenings at the Tradewinds bar in the company of at least one City Hall employee -- Paula Forsyth, now Paula Donovan. Ms. Forsyth was one of the City Hall staffers assigned to transcribe reports for the ATF. She was a close friend of Dominic Affinito, and she quickly became a very good friend of the ATF's lead investigator, Bill Mallory.
With the arrival of the ATF, Ken Rick's name was quickly out in the community as the lead informant on the case. Fort Bragg City Hall leaked like the proverbial sieve because Ms. Forsyth-Donovan was running straight from her word processor at City Hall to the Tradewinds with all the news about her exciting work day, including the names of persons who'd been interviewed by the ATF or the FBI and what they'd said.
Eleven years later, Paula Forsyth-Donovan is still running errands for the Affinitos. During a recent hearing before the Fort Bragg City Council on Dominic Affinito's one-story-too-tall North Cliff Motel (on the site of Vince Sisco's long-gone Agostinos-Waterfront Bar and Grill), Paula Donovan, appeared on behalf of Affinito to berate the council for what she claimed was its unfair treatment of Affinito. Affinito, obviously, and as the paper trail on the North Cliff makes abundantly clear, had erected his oversized Northcliff in flagrant disregard for state and local building codes. "Get the thing built, and what are they going to do, push it into the Noyo?" is how an admiring former Mendocino business owner described an old local tactic for avoiding step-by-step bureaucratic interference with new structures. Build and dare the authorities to do something about it. (Typically, the authorities simply bump up the offender's property taxes, if they do anything at all.)
But back in the big fire year of 1987, Ken Rick was immediately known to the bad guys as the man who was naming names. Everything said at City Hall went straight to Affinito's Tradewinds, and Ken Rick was soon dead.
Paula Forsyth arrived in Fort Bragg in 1966. Her father had assumed the pulpit of the Trinity Lutheran Church on Redwood Avenue after a career as a Navy chaplain. Forsyth, now in her mid-40's, completed high school in Fort Bragg. She was an honor student and won lots of her graduating class's college scholarships, which she used for a year at Cal Lutheran before returning to Fort Bragg. There was an early failed marriage to a Fort Bragg man and, in the ensuing years, struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. Freed from her mistake of an early first marriage, and never much constrained by the austere tenets of Lutheranism, Forsyth took a job at City Hall under City Manager Gary Milliman.
Milliman eventually fired her.
Ms. Forsyth's strenuous night life apparently got in the way of her daytime duties. From her side of the dispute there were allegations of sexual harassment aimed in the direction of the scrupulously correct and seemingly aesexual Milliman. Forsyth's personnel file was sealed and the matter swept under Fort Bragg's commodious carpet. It is not known if Ms. Forsyth's claim of sexual harassment was sustained.
An attractive woman who always managed, and still manages, to appear for church on Sunday no matter how rigorous her Saturday nights might be, and certainly an efficient and skilled worker most of the time, Paula Forsyth went to work, variously, for D.I.A.L., the organization serving the handicapped; for Thanksgiving Coffee; for Walsh Oil; for the troubled Westport Water District; and for Dominic Affinito as Affinito's representative where Affinito's multitude of private Fort Bragg interests collide with Fort Bragg's public domain. As a graduate of Fort Bragg High School, Paula Forsyth was an old girl in good standing and, as a way into the more insular segments of the community, she was very useful to Affinito in getting Affinito what he wanted.
Such are the ongoing tensions in Fort Bragg that few people will allow themselves to be identified in talking about anything related to either Affinito or the fires. A former co-worker, however, describes Forsyth as "the kind of person who wings everyone she works with." This man said fellow employees could predict her daily disposition by her clothes. "When she was dressed up, look out. When she came in in jeans, everything was sweetness and light."
Sartorial personality indicators aside, at the time of the fires Paula Forsyth was the person through whom confidential information from the investigation was getting to the people being investigated.
Even with local cops, ATF, FBI, and State Fire Marshal investigators swarming Fort Bragg trying to figure out who burned the library, Ten Mile court and the Piedmont Hotel, the arsonists tried to burn Vince Sisco's Waterfront Bar and Grill. The torches probably could have burned the bar at the Tradewinds and gotten away with it so long as they didn't do it before 2am.
All the rumors said the Waterfront arson was done for Sisco and Sisco's silent partner whose name, the rumors said, was Affinito. That attempt went no further than the damage caused by soaking the restaurant's interior with so much gasoline the fuel seeped clear through the floor and onto the windshield of an uncomprehending police officer patrolling below.
The late Peter Durigan and his spry little nephew, P.J. Kreidler, did that one. Having been alerted by Kreidler that they'd been spotted by several persons passing by as Kreidler was dropped off with a big can of gasoline by none other than himself, Durigan called in the aborted fire from his Gas N Grub command post. Durigan explained to the police that his nephew had discovered the petrol-soaked premises when he'd arrived to work his janitorial magic. Durigan and Kreidler had saved Sisco's restaurant from going up in flames!
The arsonists, obviously, were underwhelmed and undeterred by the huge police presence in town to track them down, so underwhelmed one Fort Bragg officer awoke one morning to find a murder scene chalk silhouette drawn on the pavement of his driveway. Durigan, of course, in his career as a corpse robber drove a coroner's wagon for San Mateo County prior to his arrival in Fort Bragg; he knew all about crime scenes. He also knew what suicides look like even when they aren't suicides.
Billy Phenix remembers Ken Rick and the combustible summer of 1987. "We were roommates for a little while in '86," Phenix recalls. "I traded a car with Kenny for his 1962 Ford pick-up. It struck me as odd, but after we made the deal, Kenny told me that someone might follow the truck at night. He said the police knew the truck but it wouldn't be them following it. But before I could ask him about it, Kenny said, 'That's all I better say about it,' and I just let it go. It was only after he died that I thought about it again."
About 4:30 the afternoon of January 12th, 1990, Ken Rick's roommate, Royce Waadaja, walked in to the tiny, forlorn house they shared at 387 South Sanderson Street, Fort Bragg, just across the street from the elementary school Rick had attended as a child, and found Ken Rick dead from a shotgun blast to the head. The shotgun belonged to Waadaja. Rick had left a note for his girlfriend that read, "I don't know why you couldn't come by and wish me a happy birthday -- that hurt me bad. Love, Ken."
The Fort Bragg Police Department treated Rick's death as if it were a crime, not a suicide. They knew he had talked with an attorney representing the feds, Sandra Teeters, the summer before he died. And they knew he' d been of enormous help to the feds. What the Fort Bragg Police Department didn't know was that Rick was scheduled to appear in Ukiah the very next day to talk to DA investigators.
Dead on Sunday, no interview Monday.
US Attorney Teeters apparently had concluded she didn't think the torches would make effective witnesses; she recommended that the feds drop the case, and the ball was back in Mendocino County's disinterested court. With the case returned to Mendocino County, and the statute of limitations ticking, there wasn't much time to get going on it.
The Fort Bragg police knew that Rick was the best witness they had. The department's Les Pierce had been on the case full-time from the morning of the fires until Rick's death. Rick had told Pierce everything and then some. Fort Bragg had more than enough for Susan Massini to have the big guys arrested and to take them on into court. Backed up by the ATF's findings, they had double enough. Ditto for the feds. But Ken Rick died in a conveniently-timed "suicide," and the feds lied and said without him there was no case. Then Susan Massini lied and said the feds had screwed up the case by releasing Rick's name to Congressman Riggs who announced it on the radio. The supervisors then said they wouldn't give Massini the money she said she needed to continue the investigation because she had enough money already. Then Massini lost her lead guy on the case, Myron Sawicki, to employee contract negotiations. When Sawicki came back onto the case a year later he was inexplicably pulled off it again. And the statute of limitations ran out. It was too late to prosecute.
All this back and forth was a lot of excuse-making for not taking the Fort Bragg Police Department's and the ATF's comprehensive findings into a court of law at either the federal or local level.
Rick had told friends he was afraid he was going to be killed. "They know how to make it look like a suicide," the doomed young man told one close friend. People afraid of being murdered don't ordinarily commit suicide. What would be the point if you think you're going to be killed anyway? There were recurrent rumors that Rick owed powerful people for a pound of cocaine he hadn't paid for. Drugs and drug sales are the arson fires sub-theme, of course; all the people involved were involved in drug sales, drug use and drug distribution, the proceeds of which, at the upper end where the real money in the dope trade is made, were recycled as real estate investments.
Tom Bickell succeeded Joe Mayberry as Fort Bragg's police chief when Mayberry retired early in 1988. Six months after the fires, Bickell said that Rick's death was treated as a homicide. "But we couldn't find anything to indicate, or prove, that he had been shot so Rick's death was ruled a probable suicide."
The police drawing depicts Rick lying on his back on a bed with his legs wrapped around the butt of a shotgun whose barrel is aimed at his head. He is alleged to have pulled the trigger with his toe. The autopsy report declared that no traces of either drugs or alcohol were found in Rick's blood. There were no fingerprints on the barrel of the shotgun. Ken Rick's obituary was withheld from the local newspapers, the idea being that conspirators higher up the arson chain would be scared out of town and into hiding. Everyone involved had known Rick was talking since the week of the fires more than two years before he died. Ken Rick's sister said only last week that "my brother would never commit suicide. Maybe if he was drunk or stoned, I could believe it. But Kenny would never kill himself while he was sober. He wasn't that brave."
And Rick's was substance-clean when he died.
Chief Bickell says that semi-acrobatic suicides are not all that uncommon. "I've seen some like this one," the chief, who is also now retired, said recently. Although swabs were taken of Rick's legs and dispatched to the Department of Justice lab to examine for gunpowder residue the results were said to be "inconclusive."
Ken Rick's girlfriend remembers that Rick had once made a sort of symbolic suicide attempt. "When we were together, Ken locked himself in the garage one night after we'd had an argument, started up his car and let the motor run. We had to get the neighbors to help us break in to stop him."
Just before Ken Rick's suspicious death almost two years after the fires, and after Rick had told federal and local authorities all about what had happened, the ATF sent a criminal case report on the arsons to DA Susan Massini. The report recommended prosecution of six suspects. The ATF volunteered its considerable resources to assist the DA and the Fort Bragg Police Department in prosecuting the case if requested, but no such request was made. Massini said in 1991, "They were always assisting us, they never stopped."
But she did.
Massini's understanding with the Feds was that when the case was fully prepared, the US Attorney's office would prosecute. Sandra Teeters, Assistant US Attorney, was assigned to the case. Teeters was new to her job, inexperienced according to Massini, which might or might not explain why in August of 1988 Teeters refused to take the case to the Federal Grand Jury which had been convened for the purpose of hearing it.
Fort Bragg's police chief, Tom Bickell, says, "I kept asking Sandra Teeters, 'Is this a good case? Can you prosecute?' and she said, 'Yes, yes.' But then an ATF agent told me, 'Tom, the US Attorney's office never rejects a case. They just let 'em die'."
But Teeters tortured the case then killed it.
Late in the summer of 1988, Teeters convened the Federal Grand Jury in San Francisco to hear several suspects, including the star witness Ken Rick, testify about their roles in the arsons, but at the last minute she refused to let the Grand Jury hear the testimony.
The 1991 Mendocino County Grand Jury blamed Teeters for missing "an opportunity to acquire important information that was heretofore unavailable to investigators."
According to Massini, Teeters found the witnesses less than credible, and Mallory's investigative work for the ATF "inadequate." Massini said that Teeters failed to tell Mallory what she wanted done and what needed to be done before she would feel confident enough in the case to bring it back to the Federal Grand Jury.
"Sandra was new, not experienced," Massini summarized. "But the real problem was Mallory. My opinion is that he was sent up to Fort Bragg to retire. The quality of the work was really shoddy -- in my opinion."
In late November of 1988, Bickell, now Fort Bragg's police chief, called Massini and told her Sandra Teeters had rejected the case. Bickell asked Massini to review the case for prosecution.
Massini says she didn't have the staff to take on the case. Her office had one investigator who worked for 14 attorneys on six or seven hundred cases a year. Moreover, Massini insisted that the evidence, thanks to ATF's Mallory, was inadequate, and besides which the arsons were old news, and the three year state statute of limitations had just about run out.
In fact, the investigative work of Les Pierce of the Fort Bragg Police, combined with Mallory's who Pierce had worked with on the case for two solid years, was more than adequate to prosecute.
"I told Tom Bickel," Massini recalled in 1991, "we're all booked up here. We've had a murder and an embezzlement case.The Fort Bragg fires was a paperwork case. It was going to take someone time. I called it 'The 16 Box Case' because we had 16 boxes of stuff."
Massini has always made the case seem as complicated as the logistics for D-Day. Really? What we had was four young bumblers hired and paid by Sisco and Durigan who were truly working for, that name again, the alleged Dominic Affinito. The alleged Affinito was freed by these six gofers to fulfill his free enterprise ambitions in Fort Bragg. How complicated is that?
But in the spring of 1989, Massini turned the 16 boxes of stuff over to the famously thorough Myron Sawicki. "Everyone agreed he was the right man for this case, meticulous and unintimidated by volumes of paperwork."
Sawicki, however, didn't get at the 16 boxes until September of 1989, almost a year after Chief Bickell had asked for help from the DA's office.
In the year between the time Chief Bickell asked for the DA's help, and when Sawicki finally began his slog through the 16 boxes, ATF's Mallory had retired. His replacement didn't do much of anything to advance the prosecution of the fires and, soon, the absent Mallory was getting the big finger of blame pointed at him.
Mallory rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. He seems to have annoyed US Attorney Sandra Teeters to the point where she refused to take the case to the Federal Grand Jury. DA Massini politely described the Mallory interlude as "maybe a little incompetence, perhaps a little negligence."
Les Pierce never bought into the Mallory-bashing. Pierce defended Mallory by pointing to the easy target he presented to persons much higher up the chain of authority. "What about Sandra Teeters? What about Susan Massini?" Pierce asked. "Mallory was competent. Maybe he retired before this case was over, but while he was still involved in the investigation, I remember him standing at a telephone, yelling to his boss, 'There's more to this case than meets the eye. Damn it, I need more bodies.' He was no diplomat, but he conducted himself as a professional."
When Sawicki finally began work on the case, he told Massini that with a great deal of work there was a "possibility of prosecution." But then he was inexplicably pulled off the case, and the statute of limitations was up. The case couldn't be prosecuted. These days, Sawicki makes it clear there was definitely a case to be prosecuted.
Tom Bickell says the failure to prosecute the arson fires was "the biggest disappointment of my career in law enforcement. We knew who the people were and we had the evidence to prove it."
"I played by the rules," Les Pierce, the Fort Bragg Police Department's lead investigator on the case said in 1991 just before he quit the force in apparent disgust that major crooks had gotten away with a flagrant arson for profit and maybe murder. "The community played by the rules, and we all lost. We spent a lot of good money doing nothing."
DA Susan Massini, whose foot-dragging throughout got seriously in the way of a prosecution, is on record as saying the ATF sent Mallory up to Fort Bragg "to retire early." Massini has a whole bag full of excuses for not pursuing the case. Mallory is only one of them, and if the ATF wasn't serious why had the agency dispatched its best technical team to work under Mallory?
The various levels of authority are all quick to belittle the efforts of authority lower down the ladder, but the investigation clearly shows a first-rate effort by the Fort Bragg Police Department and State Fire Marshal McGill, but sloppy security by ATF and an utterly appalling performance by DA Susan Massini and her federal colleagues.
Massini and the feds burned Fort Bragg as flagrantly as the crooks had.
In 1990, Barbara and Monte Reed's Reed Manor Inn in Mendocino was badly damaged in an arson fire. A young woman involved in the case allegedly committed suicide in Merced soon after.
Where Are They Now?
Vince Sisco. Lots of people assume he's dead, but there's no evidence he is. Sisco was seen a few years go on highway 101 between Cloverdale and Santa Rosa headed south in his distinctive white Cadillac. He'd be in his 70s now.
Bill Dunham is working in a savings and loan somewhere in the greater Bay Area.
Peter Durigan is dead. Ken Rick is dead. Gary Cudney still lives on the Mendocino Coast. The Gudmundsons are in and out of Fort Bragg. P.J. Kreidler is believed to be in either Washington state or Oregon.
Dominic Affinito emerged from the fires with his fortunes greatly enhanced. He owns more than 50 parcels of real estate and several businesses in and around Fort Bragg, which now include the County of Mendocino's court and social services complex, which Affinito leases back to the county at top public dollar. He presently faces felony assault charges for a November attack on Fort Bragg councilman-elect, Dan Gjerde in the lobby of Fort Bragg City Hall. Susan Massini didn't prosecute him for that one either.
Paula Forsyth-Donovan is still running errands for Affinito.
The Investigation, A Chronology
- The Fort Bragg Police Department knows within a week of the famous library, Ten Mile Court and Piedmont Hotel fire who the arsonists are, who hired them and how much they were paid to set the fires.
- The Fort Bragg Fire Department, with the permission of the Fort Bragg Police Department, requested assistance from the State Fire Marshal's office.
- The State Fire Marshal's Office, seconded by the Fort Bragg Police Department, asked for the assistance of the US Department of the Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. ATF dispatched two investigators to Fort Bragg the first week of October, 1987. The two ATF investigators called in the 30-person ATF unit known as its National Response Team. This group arrived with a mobile lab; they lodged at Affinito's Tradewinds Motel on Fort Bragg's Main Street.
- Overall responsibility for the investigation was assumed by the United States Attorney at the request of ATF. The US Attorney's Office at the time was headed up by Joe Russinello, an old family friend of the Affinitos. The US Attorney kept control of the case until August of 1988 without prosecuting it.
- In May of 1989, ATF sent a comprehensive criminal case report to the Mendocino County District Attorney. The ATF recommended that Mendocino County prosecute the case and promised to help with the prosecution. DA Massini assigned Myron Sawicki to work on the case.
- Sawicki did not start work on the case until November of 1989 because until then he had been working as the negotiator for the County Employees Management Negotiating Team, which he apparently can do while he's drawing a public salary as a prosecutor.
- DA Massini, also in November of 1989, requested more money from the Board of Supervisors to proceed with the Fort Bragg arson case. The supervisors gave her an additional $42,000 but denied subsequent requests for additional funds to prosecute.
- Massini stated on several occasions the Fort Bragg arsons were not her first priority -- violent crimes were her first priority. Most people think of arson as a violent crime.
- In May of 1991, the City of Fort Bragg, obviously aware that prosecution of the case was slipping away, pledged $50,000 to pursue the case.
- The Board of Supervisors, also in May of 1991, declared that law enforcement was the responsibility of law enforcement and that they should maintain an "arm's length" between themselves and the DA's office.
- On September 20th, 1991, the statute of limitations freed the arsonists from the possibility of federal prosecution. The statute runs a year longer than the state's clock on arson. And now the federal statute of limitations has run out, too.
- When he took office (2011), we asked DA Eyster if we could see the case files on the fires. They'd disappeared.
The bad guys won.
* * *
BETSY CAWN of Lake County Writes:
Affinito and Mitchell made their move on Lake County about a decade ago; Affinito proposed a 65-acre, “multi-scale” housing subdivision in what remains of lake-freshened wetlands on the eastern end of the Nice-Lucerne Cutoff (between Hwys 20 and 29). Thankfully, the project collapsed — after a bad infrastructure job undercut the light industry investments on Stokes Lake, the permit was not renewed by the Board of Supervisors following a hotly contested application (fought by the industrial operations his work threatened to destroy).
Mitchell made out better, reinventing himself as Origin Construction, and launching a few “high end” SFD subdivisions in the North Lakeport area — but missing the mark on failed “multi-use” major subdivisions proposed to the City of Lakeport as well as next door to the Northwest wastewater treatment plant. At one point, a Ft. Bragg lawyer (Jim somebody) offered a similarly grandiose scheme to the City of Clearlake, while Mitchell’s former contract manager — Dale Neiman — was that city’s manager, after a stint as the City of Lakeport’s liaison between two shady council members, a couple of equally shady former planning commissioners, and the city’s then attorney (later dismissed, but still costing the tax payers a small bundle in out-of-county legal fees).
These shylocks all attempted to sell the County of Lake their cheap land conversion schemes, the largest of which (Cristallago) was promoted by Boeger Land Development, which quickly went bankrupt after the “fall of 2008” — and the Chamber of Commerce was their biggest fan, based on the developer claims that the project would result in “hundreds of new jobs” (all minimum wage, and none accommodated with the affordable housing workers would need to survive — the presumption being that they would all commute from Ukiah!)
Sleaziest of all was the attempt to convert the City of Lakeport’s publicly owned waste water disposal fields (most of the city’s sewer system is not connected to the pipeline feeding the geothermal steam fields on Cobb Mountain) into a golf-course based, clubhouse centered, gated subdivision without the city’s tax payers agreement or funding of a substitute for the waste water disposal requirement. An investigation by the Lake County grand jury, in 2009, was sufficient to halt the progress of this bad deal, but Mitchell and his pals have made their mark on the County of Lake, like a bunch of bad dogs marking their territory.
(Fascinating breakdown of Affinito family land use and political arm twisting history.)