Rewards totaling $2.5 million are now being offered for information that helps solve the killing of federal prosecutor Thomas C. Wales in Seattle 20 years ago.
Nicholas Brown, newly sworn in as the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington, announced Monday at a ceremony marking the anniversary of Wales’ death that the Justice Department had doubled its reward to $2 million, in addition to about $500,000 being offered by the National Association of Former U.S. Attorneys.
Brown also said his office — long recused from the case — is taking on leadership of the investigation, as there are few remaining assistant U.S. attorneys in Seattle who worked with Wales. The investigation had been overseen by a special prosecutor in New York, Steve Clymer; transferring the oversight to Seattle will allow for fresh eyes and additional resources, Brown said.
"Twenty years is far too long for this crime — this attack on the American justice system — to go unresolved," Brown said.
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Wales was an 18-year veteran of the U.S. attorney's office who focused on white-collar crime and who also served as president of a gun-control group called Washington CeaseFire. A gunman shot him through a basement window of his home on Oct. 11, 2001, a time when authorities were scrambling in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Investigators have long believed he was assassinated and focused on a commercial airline pilot who had been prosecuted by Wales as a possible suspect.
The pilot had been involved in a business that sought to build civilian helicopters using military parts. Wales prosecuted the company and the pilot for fraud; the company pleaded guilty, but Wales eventually dropped charges against the pilot, who has always denied any involvement in the killing.
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More recently, investigators have looked into whether a hitman was hired to carry out the killing, court records show.
"The Department of Justice will never forget Tom’s contributions to the department and the cause of justice, nor will we forget the tragedy of his death,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a news release. “Although two decades have passed, the Department of Justice remains committed to this investigation. Somebody knows something about this murder, and we want to do everything we can to encourage them to come forward now.”
Several times over the years authorities have pleaded for the public’s help in solving the case, including on some anniversaries of the killing. They’ve taken out advertisements in gun-industry publications and released a sketch of a man with a chipped front tooth who was seen dragging a small, nylon suitcase through Wales’ upscale neighborhood shortly before the shooting.
Brown is the sixth U.S. attorney appointed since Wales was killed; each has said they hoped to see the case solved on their watch. Several current and former prosecutors, including Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who served as U.S. attorney from 2009-2014, attended Monday's ceremony and said they were excited about the investigation's prospects now that local prosecutors are taking over.
“It's personal here,” said Helen Brunner, a recently retired appellate attorney with the U.S. Attorney's Office. “It will always be personal here.”