The Department of Justice is increasing the reward for information to help solve the 2001 assassination of Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Wales by $1 million, bringing the total to $2.5 million.
The announcement was made Monday during a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of Wales’ death in his Seattle home. In addition, the Department of Justice announced it was returning control of the investigation to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle. The case had been overseen by a special prosecutor in New York.
During the ceremony, a Japanese maple tree — a particular favorite of Wales’ — was planted at Tom Wales Park, just west of Lake Union. The park was dedicated on the 10th anniversary of Wales’ death.
Wales, 49, was a veteran white-collar prosecutor in the Seattle U.S. Attorney’s Office and the president of Washington Ceasefire, a grassroots gun-safety organization, when he was shot while sitting at a computer in the basement of his Queen Anne home.
The killer crept into Wales’ backyard the night of Oct. 11, 2001 — motion detectors on outdoor lighting had apparently been disabled — and fired at least four shots through a basement window as Wales sat composing an email. He was struck in the neck and torso, and died later at a hospital.
Almost from that first day, investigators have focused on a commercial airline pilot who Wales had unsuccessfully prosecuted for fraud during the previous year, alleging that he and his business partners had forged documents and violated Federal Aviation Administration safety rules while attempting to convert a military-surplus helicopter for civilian use.
However, the homicide investigation early on was hampered by poor leadership and a lack of manpower in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Early missteps by investigators and a seemingly airtight alibi by their suspect — he was on the telephone at his home in Beaux Arts Village, just outside of Bellevue — have dogged the case.
Since then, the FBI has operated a full-time task force of agents, analysts and detectives from the Seattle Police Department, chased tens of thousands of leads — and had offered a $1.5 million reward. Two U.S. attorneys general — Alberto Gonzales and Eric Holder — have issued public pleas for information at previous anniversaries of the killing. Three years ago, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein issued a similar plea.
In recent years, the FBI has focused on a “small group” of individuals, most in Snohomish County, who they believe have information about the killing. The special prosecutor assigned to the case, Steven Clymer, the criminal chief in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albany, N.Y., indicted a Marysville woman, Shawna Reid, in 2019, alleging that she had lied to a grand jury about her knowledge of a man identified in court documents as “suspect #1,” an individual agents believe acted as a lookout for the killer.
That case came unraveled due to prosecution missteps and Reid’s troubled memory and past. She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in August and was released.
The FBI believes it has identified the man who pulled the trigger — a drug user and low-level dealer from Everett — who sources say is believed to have carried out a hit on Wales to pay off a drug debt.
Agents are pursuing evidence that he was recruited for the job through a Mexican drug cartel for whom the airline pilot — who now lives in Delaware — had been smuggling drugs. Sources say agents are pulling together information from two decades of investigation, with an eye toward bringing criminal charges against an array of individuals suspected of direct involvement in the killing or obstructing investigators.