Sunday, September 28, 2014

Blackmail, Witness Tampering, Criminal Misconduct: Routine Business for the Flathead County Gestapo




If Kafka and Dickens collaborated on a character, Ed Corrigan would be the result.


“These sort [sic] of things are not unusual,” sniffed Ed Corrigan, District Attorney for Flathead County, Montana, in response to a complaint against him filed with the state attorney general. “It’s not uncommon for a disgruntled defendant or disgruntled defense attorney to file complaints with either the attorney general or with the Office of Disciplinary Council.”

Not surprisingly, Corrigan’s statement is a misrepresentation. Such complaints are relatively uncommon – but not because of a paucity of prosecutorial misconduct. The corruption and criminal behavior documented in the complaint against Corrigan's office – which include witness tampering, interference with the attorney-client relationship, and official retaliation -- actually reflect the industry standard for his profession. 

What is unusual about this case is that a defense attorney was not intimidated into silence, and was able to provide irrefutable documentation of the charges – a fact demonstrated by the haste with which Corrigan’s office dropped criminal charges against his defendant, rather than deal with these disclosures in court.

Late last summer, defense attorney Timothy Baldwin filed a Rule 11 motion demanding that Corrigan and Deputy DA Kenneth “Rusty” Park be punished for official misconduct. At the time, Baldwin represented a defendant named Cory Franklin who faced decades in prison on drug conspiracy charges. 

Franklin’s wife Kristina, a woman who admits to being a habitual methamphetamine consumer, had been pressured into becoming an informant for the Northwest Drug Task Force. Although she believed that her husband could beat the charges in court, she agreed to become a snitch after being told that her “cooperation” would earn leniency for her husband.

Unwelcome: Defense attorney Tim Baldwin.

Baldwin believed the case against Cory Franklin was weak, and began to file discovery requests and other motions on his behalf. The Franklins, who were regrettably familiar with the behavior of public defenders, found Baldwin’s behavior to be a delightful novelty.

“Tim Baldwin is the only attorney who’s ever done anything for us,” Mrs. Franklin later pointed out. “The rest of the attorneys didn’t file any motions, didn’t do nothing [sic] to help Cory.” 

Deputy DA Park likewise considered Baldwin’s behavior to be unusual – and, for his purposes, unacceptable: It simply wouldn’t do for a defense attorney to mount an actual defense, rather than acting as a broker for a deal dictated by the prosecutor.

“I’m going to make this simple,” Park wrote in an April 30th email to Baldwin. “Cory can take 20 years with 10 suspended right now…. [He] will be required to continue to assist the agent on other federal and state charges that he has been assisting on, including but not limited to conducting interviews, testifying in state or federal courts and/or in front of the grand jury.”

If Mr. Franklin didn’t want to spend the next two decades of his life as a disposable slave-informant on behalf of the task force, Park continued, “he will be subject to a minimum sentence of 15 years [in the Montana State Prison] in addition to whatever time he is facing on the revocation [of his probation] plus prosecution from the federal government.” 

“This offer expires at 5:00 PM on Wednesday, May 7, 2014, or upon the filing of ANY motions of any sort from your office except a motion for a change of plea,” gloated Park in a flourish reeking of a kidnapper’s triumphal arrogance. “This offer is not open to any further negotiation.” 

Roughly a week before sending that email, Park had told Mrs. Franklin that he “cannot stand Tim Baldwin,” and that because Baldwin was representing Franklin and her husband “he would throw my husband to the federal government for criminal prosecution … [and] that it would be in my husband’s best interest to get a new attorney, because if he had a different attorney, Mr. Park would be willing to work with him….” 



To punctuate that ultimatum, the Task Force fired Kristina Franklin as an informant, acting in the misplaced confidence that this would leave her without options. However, Kristina had a great deal of practice setting up others on behalf of the Task Force, so simply turned that skill against her handler -- which is the first time it had been used for a morally defensible purpose. She called Deputy McKeag Johns, who – owing to either distraction or complacency – offered explicit first-hand testimony of Park’s criminal misconduct during the 26-minute recorded conversation. 

“I can only say that he [Park] told me that, yes, he was going to help you based on the work that you did, so I don’t know if he’s trying to like – he must be against Tim Baldwin, I assume,” Johns told Mrs. Franklin. But “it’s not just Rusty” who was unwilling to countenance Tim Baldwin, Johns continued: “Nobody likes Tim…. You need to look into the attorney that you have and make sure you’re getting along with him correctly. Because it comes down to, do you want the entire County Attorney’s Office against you?”

Baldwin was uniquely unacceptable, Johns said, because he’s “a constitutionalist kind of guy.” The Deputy also served up a greasy porridge of insinuation and rumor intended to persuade Mrs. Franklin that the only attorney willing to defend them in court was using them as “his puppets” in the hope of racking up billable hours.

However, as Johns candidly admitted, the County Attorney’s problem with Baldwin was not his supposed greed, but his principled intransigence.

“Well, honestly, it’s because you’re pushing so hard,” Johns told Mrs. Franklin. “I’m trying to help you. I will try to help you. But you guys are pushing it to a point with that frickin’ attorney that it makes it really hard for all of us. Every other attorney out there typically kind of works with us or we work with them, we try to find a deal that works good for you guys.”

Johns was admitting that Park and his boss, DA Corrigan, were punishing the Franklins because their attorney wasn’t interested in helping the Task Force expand its stable of confidential informants. 

Displaying the ersatz solicitude of a sex trafficker dealing with a runaway reluctant to enter the trade, Johns affected concern for Mrs. Franklin and her family – strictly conditioned on her willingness to be properly submissive and profitable in her boss’s employ.

“You’ve done – you’ve done great work for me,” Johns told the weeping, desperate woman. “Kristina, I wish that I could find C.I.s like you every day of the week. Because I think you’re doing a great thing for our community.” At the same time, Johns warned her, if he caught her using meth, “I’m the guy that’s going to throw you in jail … because I care about the well-being of your children.”

Mind you, that tender concern for the Franklins’ children didn’t prevent Johns from participating in a conspiracy to extort a plea deal from their father, or exploiting their mother as an undercover informant in potentially risky narcotics investigations.


After learning about the June 4th conversation between Johns and Mrs. Franklin, Baldwin filed a motion to recuse Park as a prosecutor. Park stoutly denied the allegations – and promptly confirmed them by filing a motion to dismiss the case against Cory Franklin, an act that would constitute official nonfeasance if Mr. Franklin were indeed a dangerous criminal worthy of a twenty-year prison term.

Armed with the recorded conversation, a notarized transcription, and an affidavit from Mrs. Franklin attesting to its accuracy, Baldwin – along with fellow defense attorneys Phyllis and John Quatman -- filed a Rule 11 motion demanding sanctions against Corrigan and Parks. After a brief and not particularly suspense-laden interval, Attorney General Brant Light denied the motion, insisting that he didn’t believe that the allegations “warrant a criminal investigation of Ed Corrigan or Kenneth Park.”

Denied redress through official channels, Baldwin and the Quatmans, acting as the Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, took the matter before the public on September 15, releasing an on-line archive of documents and a detailed narrative of Park’s official misconduct.


“When we put together the Rule 11 complaint, we sent a draft of it to every defense attorney we knew of in Flathead County,” John Quatman told me. “We were hoping that at least some of them would join in our complaint as co-signers, or perhaps even add to it. Not a single defense attorney signed the complaint; in fact, we never even heard from any of them.”

A brief review of the documented allegations in the complaint offers adequate explanation for such reluctance. Over the course of nearly two decades in office, Ed Corrigan has refined the science of intimidation and retaliation.

Roughly 15 years ago, while John’s wife Phyllis was representing a defendant named Jackie Buck, Corrigan told the client’s parents that Mrs. Quatman “was a troublemaker and a problem” and promised that if Buck “fought her drug charges at all, he would file a sexual assault charge against her, which he did after she insisted on having a preliminary examination,” notes the complaint.

Corrigan’s vindictiveness and gift for creative sadism were displayed memorably during his term as a deputy DA in the case of a woman named Gerri Steffes. In December 1999, Steffes, who faced ten counts of prescription drug abuse, was suddenly hit with an eleventh charge – and arrested in front of her children three days before Christmas. This happened after Phyllis Quatman began to file motions to prepare to defend Steffes in court.

“Phyllis had filed the motions, then left the week of Christmas to visit family in California,” Mr. Quatman recounted to me. “Just days before Christmas, Corrigan filed the eleventh count as a separate charge so that she could be arrested and held in jail away from her family during Christmas. He waited until Phyllis was out of town to do this, and he filed in front of a judge who was a friend and former colleague in the prosecutor’s office. I had to go to the DA’s and personally intervene with Corrigan’s boss to arrange for bail.”

After Steffes was compelled to offer a guilty plea, the Quatmans filed a vindictive prosecution complaint against Corrigan.

“We were able to depose Corrigan on the stand, where he admitted, under oath, that he intended to put this woman in jail over Christmas, and that it gave him `great pleasure’ to think about who her attorney was,” Mr. Quatman recalled, his voice flavored with weary disgust.

Worst of both worlds: Kenneth "Rusty" Park

Kenneth Park, a former Oklahoma City Police Officer and federal undercover narcotics operative, has been Corrigan’s faithful disciple. When a defendant named Byron Nelson was accused of selling $100 worth of marijuana to a particularly insistent Task Force informant, the Quatmans prepared to present an entrapment defense. 

Park responded by dispatching three Task Force mouth-breathers – including McKeag Johns – to threaten and intimidate Nelson’s mother, who operates a legal medical marijuana dispensary.

“Those guys showed up with guns plainly visible, and started accusing that poor woman of selling marijuana to people without [government-issued medical] cards,” John Quatman recalled to me. “They knew those accusations were groundless, but they didn't care. One of them mentioned that the maximum penalty she could face would be up to 100 years in prison. They blackmailed Byron into accepting a guilty plea when he had a very good entrapment defense. When he was asked in his change of plea hearing if he had been coerced, Byron frankly said that he had, because the Task Force had threatened his mother.”

Like any other swaggering bully, Park is as intrepid as Hector when dealing with defenseless and marginalized people, but he dissolves into a puddle of petulance when he’s facing the receiving end of the enforcement apparatus.


In April 2013, Park decided to celebrate the third anniversary of his job with the Flathead County Prosecutor’s Office by getting drunk and assaulting his wife. Arrested at 9:30 on a Friday evening, Park faced the prospect of a weekend behind bars. 

Rather than manning up and dealing with a small sample of what he and his boss had inflicted on helpless people, Park had his attorney roust a Justice of the Peace from bed to hold an unprecedented midnight hearing during which he whimpered about the dangers he would face being locked up with representatives of the local criminal element.

Leaving aside the fact that Parks could have been put in a segregation unit, and brushing over the fact that petty criminals represent a higher grade of humanity than prosecutors of Park’s ilk, it’s useful to remember that Park has cultivated an image as a bold and valiant badass who infiltrated biker gangs during his law enforcement career. The same prosecutor who once gloated that he had a defendant “by the short and curlys” found that his own unexceptional dangling anatomy was inadequate for him to endure two days in jail. The people running Flathead County’s “justice” system were willing to make special arrangements to protect the poor, cringing little creature. 

The domestic violence charge was dropped, the long-suffering wife quite sensibly obtained a protective order and filed for divorce, and Parks was permitted to resume his well-compensated career visiting wreck and ruin on the lives of less violent people. Contacted for comment about this story Park offered a dismissive reference to “cowards” who are supposedly spreading “false statements” about his conduct. 

By dismissing the Cory Franklin case rather than defending his actions in court, Park engaged in behavior that could be characterized as cowardly. Of greater importance, however, is the fact that the chief witness against him was not a criminal defendant or a defense attorney, but McKeag Johns, his comrade in the local counter-narcotics Gestapo.  

 “Generally speaking, all narcotics investigations are questionable,” Quatman told me. “This isn’t limited to Flathead County – it’s nation-wide. Narcotics officers operate at the fringes of the law, and they develop an `Us-against-the-world’ mentality. They see themselves as saviors of humankind from the deluge of drugs – they’re shoring up the dikes trying to prevent a deluge that would destroy us all. This leads them to cut corners, ignore Due Process, lie to defendants, lie in reports, lie on the stand – because they think by doing so they’re benefiting humanity.”

Police who specialize in vice enforcement “usually start believing their own propaganda,” Quatman continues. “Prosecutors tend to be a little more cynical. They don’t like to work very hard, because they get paid a flat fee whether they win or lose. There is a lot of prestige at stake, however. Your win-loss record makes all the difference in the eyes of your peers, and in defining your career trajectory. There is huge pressure to win, and the prospect of being ostracized if you lose. This is why they prefer defense attorneys who don’t fight back.”

A former narcotics officer-turned- prosecutor, Park embodies the worst of both worlds. In Oklahoma, he was part of a federal multi-jurisdictional task force that focused on an area in which Interstates 35, 40, and 44 converged. This allowed them to rake in millions of dollars through seizures, some of which involved actual drug traffickers, and some of which inevitably targeted entirely innocent people who lost their money to “forfeiture.” 

Isn't that cute! Parks in Biker drag as a Fed.
In 2008 Park was awarded a law degree. Rather than seeking honest work, he found a sinecure with the DEA before moving to Montana to become a deputy county prosecutor. 

Once he arrived in Flathead County, Parks “attached himself to the drug task force,” Quatman recalls. “He became a `rip-and-run’-type prosecutor. They’re like drug enforcement officers who don’t pay much attention to the law or due process. They simply kick in doors and make arrests, figuring that everything will be sorted out later. Park was the kind of drug prosecutor who worked very well with officers like that.”

The task force was “carrying out searches without warrants or consent,” Quatman continues. “They were going through motel rooms, sending in officers posing a plumbers and that kind of thing. Naturally, we began to challenge their cases because of due process violations and generally shoddy police work, so we quickly became personae not grata because we weren’t following the familiar script. The same was true of Tim Baldwin, who approached us and wanted to work together because his clients were experiencing the same kind of treatment.”
Everybody involved in Flathead County’s court system is aware of the routine abuse and pervasive corruption, and nobody other than Baldwin and the Quatmans has been willing to confront it. 

“Corruption and collusion are endemic here in Flathead County, but we’re hardly unique in that respect,” insists John Quatman who spent 25 years as a deputy prosecutor in Alameda County, California. “It is alarming how law enforcement will bind together to protect their own, what the system is willing to do to protect itself – and how many lives are needlessly ruined as a result.” 

As Ed Corrigan said, there is nothing unusual about this kind of impenitent corruption and unpunished criminality. 

This week's Freedom Zealot Podcast deals with the Flathead County Counter-Narcotics Gestapo; to listen or download that program, click here


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