A former three-term Lynden city councilman and Lynden Christian Schools bus driver was arrested last week for allegedly promoting prostitution on a Whatcom Transportation Authority bus he drove in December.
Jay Van Lant, 57, was booked into the Whatcom County Jail Jan. 14 on suspicion of one count of second-degree promoting prostitution.
He was released and has not yet been charged with a crime.
Whatcom County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Liz Gallery said Van Lant is scheduled to make his next court appearance Jan. 28. She said she would file a second-degree promoting prostitution charge by then.
Never miss a local story.
On Dec. 14, Van Lant allegedly told a 32-year-old male passenger that he had a friend who would perform an unspecified sexual act on the passenger and pay him $50, Bellingham Police spokesman Mark Young said.
The passenger declined and no sexual act occurred, Young said. Van Lant admitted to making the offer when interviewed by police in January, Young said.
To be found guilty of second-degree promoting prostitution in Washington, a person has to have been proven to profit from or advance prostitution.
Gallery said soliciting customers is evidence of advancing prostitution.
Van Lant did not return a call Tuesday seeking comment on this story.
The passenger reported the incident to the WTA on Dec. 17, Young said.
WTA General Manager Richard Walsh said the agency immediately began investigating the allegation but was unable to contact the passenger until Jan. 3.
The WTA interviewed Van Lant the next day, Walsh said. Based on its internal investigation, the agency decided to fire Van Lant on Jan. 5 and contact the police, Walsh said.
"This alleged criminal activity is absolutely unacceptable of all WTA employees," Walsh said. "I am grateful to the passenger for coming forward."
Walsh said Van Lant had been employed as a bus driver for the WTA since 1993, and no passengers had complained about this kind of alleged conduct before December.
Lynden Christian Superintendent Don Kok said Van Lant has been placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of further investigation.
Kok said Van Lant has been employed as a bus driver for a number of years and called him an exemplary employee.
"Although the complaint is in no way related to his employment or responsibilities at the school, the Board deemed it prudent to place him on immediate leave," Kok said in a prepared statement. "The school is saddened to hear of these allegations."
Young said the passenger told police that he had been having a conversation with Van Lant.
During that conversation, the passenger said that he was experiencing difficulty finding work, which prompted Van Lant to allegedly offer that his friend would pay the passenger $50 to perform the sexual act on him.
Young said Van Lant was interviewed Jan. 13 and, according to a police report, admitted his involvement and told police "he was just trying to help out a friend with money before Christmas."
Van Lant was elected to the Lynden City Council in 1985 and was re-elected twice, in 1989 and again in 1993.
During his time on the council, he voted to curb Lynden's expansion west of the Guide Meridian and opposed a ban on opening businesses on Sundays.
In 1995, he voted to relax a 14-year-old ordinance that required city approval for public dancing, which attracted national attention to Lynden.
The ordinance required establishments to obtain permits before allowing dancing, and banned dancing where liquor was sold.
Van Lant voted to change the ordinance to allow public dancing without permits in places that didn't serve alcohol.
A year later, however, he refused to consider another change that would have allowed dancing in establishments that served alcohol.
Despite being a three-term incumbent, Van Lant was defeated in 1997.