The prime suspect in the killing of Seattle federal prosecutor Thomas Wales allegedly paid $5,000 to another man to pose as him for a paternity test in the 1990s, according to state records and people familiar with the Wales investigation.

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The prime suspect in the killing of Seattle federal prosecutor Thomas Wales allegedly paid $5,000 to another man to pose as him for a paternity test in the 1990s, according to state records and people familiar with the Wales investigation.

The scheme was uncovered by the FBI during its long-running investigation into the slaying of Wales, according to a former federal law-enforcement official with detailed knowledge of the investigation. Wales was shot in his Queen Anne home on Oct. 11, 2001.

The 1994 paternity incident has led a federal grand jury in Seattle to subpoena state paternity records as part of the investigation into Wales’ killing.

Neither the FBI official overseeing the investigation, David Miller, nor Steven Clymer, the New York-based special prosecutor in the case, would comment, citing secrecy rules surrounding ongoing investigations. But legal experts said the paternity information could be used to show a history of deception and wrongdoing by the suspect as the government builds a case.

Grand jurors would have a strong interest in evidence of a “shaky or shadowy past,” said Stephen Meagher, a former federal prosecutor in San Francisco.

“It could be very important to the grand jury” in deciding whether to issue an indictment, Meagher said.

The suspect in the Wales slaying, a commercial airline pilot, had been prosecuted by Wales in a fraud case involving a rebuilt military helicopter. The pilot, who lived in Bellevue at the time of the slaying, recently moved to Seattle.

The Seattle Times is not naming the 47-year-old pilot because he hasn’t been charged.

The pilot, through his attorney, Larry Setchell, declined to comment on the paternity matter. Setchell has previously accused the FBI of hounding his client.

Grand-jury hearing

The pilot, who through his attorney has maintained his innocence, has remained a focus of secret grand-jury proceedings. As recently as last year, a grand jury subpoenaed his then-wife to provide testimony amid the couple’s divorce proceedings.

The pilot became entangled in the paternity testing when a woman with a son who was 8 at the time applied for Washington state welfare benefits.

State officials sought to identify the father to collect child-support payments.

The pilot was one of three men asked to submit to paternity tests, according to records obtained from the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

Prosecutors in Whatcom County, where the pilot and the boy’s mother once lived, negotiated with the pilot’s attorney over the test.

The pilot’s attorney at the time, Lowell Ashbach, arranged for blood to be drawn in Florida, where the pilot was spending time, according to the records.

The test was conducted on Dec. 6, 1994, at a blood center in Orlando, Fla., according to the records. As a result of the test, the pilot was excluded as the father.

In 1995, one of the other men was found to be the father when he refused to take a blood test. Under Washington rules, the refusal resulted in a determination that the man was the father, and he was ordered to make child-support payments.

The matter remained closed until after Wales was killed. While investigating the pilot, FBI agents were told by people they interviewed that he had arranged for another man to take the paternity test, said the former federal law-enforcement official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigation.

Agents ultimately obtained a photograph taken by the Florida blood center of the man who appeared for the 1994 test, the former official said. The person in the picture was not the pilot, the former official said.

State records related to the test were subpoenaed in mid-2003 by a federal grand jury in Seattle investigating the Wales case.

A friend of the pilot’s, who asked not to be named because he is now embarrassed about his participation, told The Times he escorted a “look-alike” of the pilot from Washington to Florida to take the paternity test.

“The look-alike indicated he was doing the deed for $5,000,” said the friend. He said he has been questioned by the FBI about his role. He said he couldn’t remember the name of the look-alike.

The mother of the child, who now lives in another state and asked not be identified, said in an interview that she was called to testify before the grand jury and describe her ties to the pilot. FBI agents informed her the pilot had paid $5,000 to the man who took the test, she said.

The pilot’s former lawyer, Ashbach, said he didn’t know of any allegation that someone other than the pilot had appeared for the blood draw.

As part of the Wales probe, FBI agents have looked into the possibilities that the pilot either shot Wales himself or hired someone else to kill the prosecutor. Agents also have examined whether others helped the pilot concoct an alibi that he was home at the time of the killing.

The paternity matter was of particular interest to investigators looking into a pattern that the pilot “has always chosen friends and associates who he can manipulate,” said the former federal law-enforcement official.

Credibility question

It’s questionable whether the paternity-test issue would be admissible at a murder trial in the Wales case, because rules of evidence are stricter than during grand-jury hearings, according to Meagher, the former federal prosecutor.

But it could be used to undermine the credibility of a defendant if he were to testify on his own behalf, Meagher said.

Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the paternity-test allegation, if true, “is important because it shows the suspect has the wherewithal and/or the means and intent to engage in illegal conduct, especially to cover up his own acts.”

While not directly related to the killing, that conduct has “some relevance to the Wales investigation,” Levenson said.

Helicopter case costly

Wales, 49, was shot through a window while he was sitting at a computer in his basement. A witness saw a man running to a vehicle.

Shortly before he was killed, Wales had prosecuted the pilot and others on charges their company illegally converted a military helicopter to sell as a civilian model. After years in court — costing the pilot $125,000 in legal bills — the charges were dropped after the company pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and paid a fine.

Shortly afterward, the pilot sued for malicious prosecution. The suit was pending when Wales was killed, but later was dismissed.

The pilot has remained the key suspect in the Wales investigation since early in the case, in part because of threatening comments he had allegedly made about Wales.

Ten investigators continue to work the case. The Justice Department and FBI have offered a $1 million reward.

If Wales was slain because of his work, he would be the first federal prosecutor in U.S. history to be killed in the line of duty.

Seattle Times researcher David Turim contributed to this story, which also contains information from Times archives.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or e-mail smiletich@seattletimes.com

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or e-mail or e-mail mcarter@seattletimes.com