OLYMPIA — Over his decades in public life, former Gov. Albert Rosellini helped bring Washington into the modern era, burnishing his reputation as one of the state’s most effective leaders by reforming state prisons, modernizing mental-health institutions and helping create his namesake, the 520 floating bridge that links Seattle with what have become its job-rich eastern suburbs.
But FBI officials who scrutinized Rosellini’s activities in the 1960s saw something else. They questioned his political associations and probed a series of allegations that Rosellini was corrupt.
Rosellini, who died in 2011 at the age of 101, was never charged with any crimes and was never the subject of an FBI criminal investigation, according to hundreds of pages of documents recently disclosed to The Associated Press under public-records law. However, FBI officials did little to hide their disdain for the Democratic governor, with the Seattle special agent in charge writing to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover that Rosellini was “a thorough scoundrel.”
The files touch on Rosellini’s ties to Frank Colacurcio Sr., the Seattle strip-club owner who died in 2010 at age 93 while under indictment in a prostitution and racketeering case.
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Throughout his career, Rosellini was dogged by allegations that he had
a close relationship with Colacurcio. It wasn’t until late in their lives that the bond between them publicly emerged, when both became entangled in a campaign-contribution scandal dubbed “Strippergate.”
Three pages of the FBI records, citing unverified information from unnamed people, include references to a “close” relationship between the two. One person told the FBI Colacurcio was “very active” in collecting money for Rosellini’s first gubernatorial campaign in 1956.
Some of the scrutiny of Rosellini was rooted in controversial FBI practices of the past, including its focus on political associations under Hoover. In the 1940s, FBI officials collected information about how Rosellini was suspected of associating with communist publications, and described how he’d made a donation to a group that organized youths for the Communist Party.
Later research came after Rosellini’s eight-year tenure in office ended in 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson was considering the governor for an undisclosed federal appointment, according to the records. The White House asked FBI officials to conduct a special inquiry to assess any problematic aspects of Rosellini’s background.
In June 1965, the FBI produced a 100-page internal report on Rosellini. It documented a variety of allegations, including that people seeking liquor licenses, small-loan licenses or bank charters had been required to pay a contribution to Rosellini’s political campaign or hire his former law firm as their attorneys.
The president of one bank said he was asked to make a $25,000 payment to get a bank charter, according to the documents. The FBI said it had information suggesting one bank was punished and lost business with the state for failing to make a campaign contribution. Don Abel, appointed by Rosellini to serve as chairman of the Liquor Control Board, called his former boss a “crook.”
Rosellini’s chief Republican political rival, former Gov. Dan Evans, said in an interview with the AP that he didn’t agree with the portrayal of Rosellini as unethical.
“The trouble with the FBI files is that if you accept all the accusations at face value, you can make quite a case,” Evans said. “A lot of the stuff is just that: accusations.”
Colacurcio Sr.’s name first appears in a 1952 reference, in which someone who requested anonymity told the FBI that Rosellini, then a state senator, tried to help Colacurcio and another person open a club in Tacoma that would be used as a house of prostitution.
Colacurcio told the FBI he had known Rosellini for decades and that he had been active in Rosellini’s political campaigns. But he insisted he had little contact with Rosellini during his eight years as governor and denied involvement in influence peddling or graft.
The late Seattle police chief Frank Ramon, who died in 1986, vouched for Rosellini’s character, according to the FBI records. Ramon retired in 1969 after a palace revolt by top police commanders over his interference in a gambling investigation that exposed corruption, according to HistoryLink.org.
During his political career, Rosellini fought off allegations of ties to Colacurcio, but the “Strippergate” scandal brought out his long friendship with the convicted racketeer.
Rosellini lobbied for a rezone to expand parking at a North Seattle strip club sought in 2003 by Colacurcio’s son, Frank Jr.
The two Colacurcios later pleaded guilty to illegally funneling campaign contributions to three then-Seattle City Council members. Rosellini was not charged, but court papers showed he helped deliver campaign checks.
The documents also described an alleged affair between Rosellini and his secretary. The archbishop of Seattle told FBI officials that relatives and close advisers to the governor had asked him to confront Rosellini about the relationship, with one person expressing concern that lawmakers were using the issue as leverage to influence the governor.
The archbishop at the time, Thomas Connolly, said he threatened to publicly denounce Rosellini in every Catholic Church in the Seattle Archdiocese if the governor did not end his indiscretions, according to the FBI records. Connelly, who died in 1991, told the FBI that Rosellini later called him and thanked him for helping him through the situation.
There is no indication in the documents that the FBI ever pursued a more substantial investigation of any of the accusations detailed in the files. Rosellini wasn’t chosen for a federal appointment.
Rosellini’s daughter, Lynn, said that while she wasn’t aware of the specific allegations outlined in the FBI files, she recalled that rumors and innuendo surrounded her father throughout his career. She believes the accusations stemmed from prejudice, because her father was Italian and Catholic.
“I think that was always the liability for Dad,” she said.
Rosellini, known for wearing a rosebud on his lapel, was first elected to the state Senate in 1938 and to the governor’s office in 1956. After losing the governorship to Evans in 1964, Rosellini campaigned again for the office in 1972, winning the Democratic primary but losing to Evans in the general election.
The FBI files were released to the AP under the Freedom of Information Act. The bureau typically makes records available after someone’s death.
Seattle Times staff reporter Steve Miletich contributed to this story.