By Steve Miletich and Mike Carter / The Seattle Times
In what may be a break in the 18-year-old investigation into the shooting death of Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Wales in 2001, federal prosecutors have accused an Everett woman of obstruction of justice and lying to a grand jury about her knowledge of statements made by a suspect in the killing.
An indictment handed up by a grand jury in June and unsealed Tuesday charges Shawna Reid with making a false declaration before a grand jury in February 2018 and thereby obstructing the investigation into the long-unsolved homicide of Wales, who worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle.
While the indictment does not mention Wales by name, two sources familiar with the investigation confirmed the charges involve the prosecutor, who was gunned down in the basement of his Queen Anne home.
The indictment was signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Clymer, who has been the special prosecutor on the Wales case since 2002. It is the first indictment handed up in connection with the killing and is the result of a massive, ongoing investigation into the slaying that has been a top priority of the FBI and Department of Justice.
If it turns out the killing was related to Wales’ work as an assistant U.S. attorney, he will have been the first federal prosecutor killed in the line of duty in the nation’s history.
Reid, 34, was arrested Tuesday and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michelle Peterson, where she pleaded not guilty and was released on her own recognizance, said her lawyer, Kevin Peck.
Peck said he could not comment on whether the indictment was related to the Wales investigation. “It’s not a topic I’m at liberty to discuss,” he said.
Peck said Reid looked forward to proving her innocence.
Department of Justice spokesman Peter Carr said he could not comment on the indictment.
Wales, 49, was shot several times while sitting at a computer in his basement about 10:40 p.m. on Oct. 11, 2001. The killer slipped into Wales’ back yard, fired through a basement window, and then fled.
Since early in the case, the FBI focused its investigation on an airline pilot whom Wales had prosecuted.
No charge has been brought against the pilot, despite a reward of up to $1.5 million; several searches of homes where the pilot lived in the Bellevue area and Snohomish; a nationwide effort to trace a unique gun barrel used to kill Wales; and an exploration into every corner of the pilot’s life. The investigation has involved extensive use of phone and wire taps and other surreptitious surveillance, according to sources.
The indictment states Reid had the following exchange with prosecutors before the grand jury on Feb. 28, 2018:
Q: “In your first interview did you say to the FBI that [Suspect #1] bragged to you about [Suspect #1’s] involvement in the murder of a, quote, judge or attorney that lives on top of a hill, end quote.”
Reid answered, “No.”
Question by prosecutor: “In your first interview did you say to the FBI that [Suspect #1] bragged that the murder victim was someone of importance, like a judge or an attorney general?”
Reid answered, “No” again.
The indictment does not name “Suspect #1.” It alleges that in truth, Reid “well knew when she testified before the grand jury, she had told the FBI agent … in that first interview on Aug. 23, 2017, that Suspect #1 had bragged to her about Suspect #1’s involvement in the murder of a judge or lawyer, that lives on top of a hill, and also stated several times that Suspect #1 had called the victim an ‘attorney general.’”
Katherine Zackel, FBI spokesperson, said Tuesday night, “The FBI takes perjury and obstruction of justice very seriously. We will investigate these crimes and hold individuals responsible for interfering with or obstructing a federal investigation.”
The indictment is significant, according to sources familiar with the case, in that it confirms that the FBI has a suspect in the shooting and has identified Reid as someone connected to that suspect. The indictment now gives the FBI and special prosecutor leverage to secure Reid’s cooperation — under threat of going to prison — in the case they are building against the shooter, the sources said.
While Wales’ slaying has mostly fallen out of the news, a specially designated task force — named SEAPROM (for “Seattle Prosecutor Murder”) — has continued to work the case full-time. The investigation was given “major-case” designation by the Department of Justice, on par with the decadeslong Unabomber investigation that eventually led to the arrest of anarchist Ted Kaczynski, who between 1978 and 1995 sent or delivered booby-trapped packages that killed three Americans and injured 24 more. Some of the investigators, including FBI agents and detectives in the Seattle Police Department, have spent most of their careers on this single investigation.
The Seattle Times, quoting an FBI official familiar with the investigation, reported in 2018 that the task force had found evidence strongly suggesting the shooting involved a conspiracy and a hired gunman.
Until then, agents had long pursued a single-shooter theory in the case and focused on the pilot.
While agents continued to look at all leads, they have reviewed possible ties between the pilot and a small circle of people who agents suspect were involved in the killing, the FBI official said.
The official said there is a “very small group” of people who know what happened. “They never talk about it.”
The pilot, whom Wales had prosecuted in a bitterly fought fraud case, has maintained his innocence throughout the investigation. The Times is not naming the pilot because he hasn’t been charged in the case.
Wales worked as a white-collar criminal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle.
The FBI said in 2018 that the investigation into his death had generated 2,345 sub-files — each a separate avenue of inquiry — and more than 51,000 investigative documents.
The wide-ranging probe was hampered in the beginning by investigative missteps and was overshadowed by the Sept.11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The pilot lived for years in Beaux Arts Village near Bellevue, and for a time in Snohomish. He was last believed to be living in Delaware. For a period of time, he was grounded as a pilot because of the investigation, but later resumed flying, according to sources.
Along with several business partners, the pilot had been the target of a flawed prosecution by Wales on allegations the group had illegally converted a military helicopter to sell for civilian use. The charges against the individuals were eventually dropped, and the company pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and paid a fine.
The pilot sued, alleging malicious prosecution, and sought more than $125,000 in legal fees. The suit, pending when Wales was killed, was later rejected by a judge.
The pilot’s attorney, Larry Setchell, who has insisted on his client’s innocence, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in a 2006 interview that his client felt “profound frustration” over the helicopter prosecution. “How could there not be? He hadn’t done anything wrong.”
But Setchell said that he and his client “never once blamed Tom Wales.”
In 2006, the Seattle FBI office received an anonymous letter from Las Vegas in which the author wrote in detective-novel style that the killing was carried out by a hit man. The letter was postmarked about the same time the pilot happened to be in Las Vegas.
“He did not write the Las Vegas letter,” Setchell was quoted as saying in a New Yorker magazine article about the shooting.
Last year, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein came to Seattle specifically to draw additional attention to the case and announce that the National Association of Former United States Attorneys Foundation had raised another $525,000 to add to an already $1 million reward being offered for information leading to an arrest in the case.
The goal of the Wales task force for the past several years has been to isolate and confront suspected outlying witnesses — individuals who might know something or someone involved in the homicide — and try to find a chink in their stories or get them to break. It has been a carrot-and-stick approach, with the $1.5 million reward as the incentive, and the threat of criminal charges — like those now aimed at Reid — as the cudgel.
John McKay, who began serving as U.S attorney shortly after the shooting, said Tuesday night, “We should all be encouraged by the indictment and arrest if, as it appears, it relates to the murder of … Tom Wales in 2001, because it means the FBI and Dept. of Justice continue to actively investigate this horrible crime.”
McKay, who held the post until 2007, said the killing was an “attack on our justice system and if this arrest helps identify those cowards responsible for it then it’s not just a good thing — it’s a very good thing.”