Lieutenant Allegedly Acted Alone
By Toni Locy and Avis Thomas-Lester
Investigators probing corruption allegations against a District police lieutenant believe he acted alone when he allegedly orchestrated an extortion plot aimed at men who frequented a gay bar, according to law enforcement sources.
But the sources said FBI agents and members of the D.C. police internal affairs unit are trying to determine whether anyone in the department including former chief Larry D. Soulsby knew or suspected that Lt. Jeffery S. Stowe also allegedly was skimming money from three police funds he controlled.
Stowe, 42, the commander of the department's special investigations section, appeared in U.S. District Court on Tuesday to be charged with extortion and embezzlement, less than two hours after the resignation of Soulsby, his close friend and recent roommate at a luxury downtown apartment.
Stowe was placed on administrative leave with pay three weeks ago. Through his attorney, G. Allen Dale, Stowe said he is innocent.
As part of their probe, investigators also are examining what Soulsby knew about his friend's activities and when, the sources said. Soulsby, who says that he did nothing wrong, said he decided to resign because he didn't want his friendship with Stowe to tarnish the department.
Investigators are reviewing Soulsby's action that delayed an in-house audit of the three funds that Stowe is accused of bilking, the sources said. Former deputy chief Wyndell C. Watkins, who then commanded the division that included the audit and compliance bureau and internal affairs, has said Soulsby told him to delay it for at least a couple of months.
The sources said investigators also are examining the reimbursement request forms that Stowe submitted. An FBI affidavit made public Tuesday in court stated that all the forms "were approved by the Office of the Chief of Police prior to any disbursements . . . to Stowe." It is, however, unclear if Soulsby personally approved any or all of Stowe's requests.
During the next 30 days the time that prosecutors have under law to get an indictment after an arrest investigators will present the rest of the evidence they have gathered against Stowe to a federal grand jury and seek an indictment, the sources said.
According to the sources, investigators believe they have most of the evidence they need regarding Stowe's alleged attempt to extort $10,000 from a married man who patronized the Follies Theater, a gay club in Southeast Washington, in early September.
The FBI affidavit filed to support the arrest warrant for Stowe mentions one other man who allegedly was targeted for extortion, and sources said investigators believe they have identified all the victims who are willing to come forward.
Investigators are satisfied that they know how Stowe allegedly identified his victims, the sources said. He allegedly identified vehicles that appeared to belong to men with families minivans and cars with kiddie seats in them parked outside gay clubs. Starting with license plate numbers, the sources said, he allegedly traced the owners through a series of computer searches on a law enforcement computer database and the Internet. The searches were done to gather background information on at least three men two of whom told authorities that they had gone to Follies Theater in early September, according to the FBI's affidavit.
Sources said investigators also are confident that they can link Stowe to telephone calls made to the victims. During those calls, a man identifying himself as "David Smith" or "Dave" the same name used to rent the postal box used in the alleged extortion attempt said he had photographs of the men at the Follies Theater and threatened to show them to the victims' employers and wives.
In addition, the clerk at the Mail Box Etc. office in downtown Washington, where the alleged extortion payment was to be sent, allegedly has identified Stowe as the man who used a fake Louisiana driver's permit to rent a postal box. Stowe also was charged with making a false statement for allegedly using the fictitious identity on the rental application for the postal box.
With the probe of the alleged extortion essentially wrapped up, investigators plan to focus on making sure that they haven't missed anything on the paper trail of reimbursements that Stowe sought for expenses that he said he or other detectives incurred during routine police investigations, the sources said.
A key aspect will be attempting to link the reimbursements from the three police funds to a series of "unexplained deposits of money" into Stowe's personal bank accounts that were noted in the FBI affidavit.
The affidavit provided three examples, totaling more than $14,000, in which Stowe received money for expenses that detectives involved in the cases said never were incurred. Investigators have identified many more such reimbursements, the sources said, declining to say how many or how much was involved.
The sources said investigators decided to arrest Stowe before a grand jury issued an indictment because they were alarmed by the discovery that he allegedly was using police subordinates to track the FBI's investigation of the alleged extortion plot. They also were concerned about leaks to the news media, and they were worried that Stowe might harm himself, the sources said.
Because they realized that a police officer could be in danger if he were incarcerated, even briefly, Stowe was taken from FBI offices to a holding cell adjacent to a magistrate judge's courtroom. After Tuesday's brief hearing, Stowe was released on personal recognizance and ordered to surrender all of his firearms.
Darryl Cooper, chairman of a group called Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, said that his organization's hot line had not received complaints of extortion attempts aimed at gays.
"This is the first we've heard of a blackmail attempt like this," he said. "If people are closeted, they are not going to call for help, I'm afraid."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company