State Sen. Pam Roach, the long-serving and often controversial Sumner Republican, has come under scrutiny over the past year by federal law enforcement.
Three people — a lobbyist, a political consultant and a legislative candidate — told The Seattle Times the FBI has been been asking questions about Roach’s conduct.
The inquiries have involved Roach’s political fundraising, expense reimbursements and efforts to discourage a GOP state House hopeful in her legislative district from competing with her preferred candidate.
The precise nature and extent of the feds’ interest is unclear. The FBI has made targeting public corruption a top priority, but won’t say whether Roach is the subject of a formal investigation.
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Ayn Dietrich-Williams, an FBI spokeswoman in Seattle, said the bureau does not confirm or deny its investigations “except in extraordinary circumstances.”
Now the Legislature’s longest-serving sitting state senator, as well as the Senate’s president pro-tempore, Roach has represented the 31st Legislative District of southeast King and north Pierce counties since 1991. She is seeking election this year to the Pierce County Council.
Roach said she knew nothing about the FBI’s interest until informed by a Seattle Times reporter and suggested “political enemies” were spreading misinformation.
“I haven’t heard a thing from them,” Roach said. “I don’t have time for these games. I do my job, and I do it very well.”
One of the incidents explored by federal investigators is a campaign-cash solicitation made by Roach in 2014 to a trio of energy-industry lobbyists.
At the time, Roach faced a strong challenge to her re-election bid from a fellow Republican, then-state Rep. Cathy Dahlquist of Enumclaw.
When representatives of the Spokane-based utility Avista hesitated to donate to Roach, she sent them an email noting she’d just been appointed to a legislative energy-policy advisory committee.
“I wanted that to enter into your thinking on your possible support,” Roach wrote, according to the July 3, 2014, email obtained by The Seattle Times. She included an upcoming agenda for the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Energy Support and Energy Conservation.
Lobbyists for corporations and unions routinely make campaign donations to legislators positioned to aid their interests. Still, Roach’s explicit linking of her new position to a campaign-cash request triggered an alarmed response from Collins Sprague, Avista’s director of government relations.
“On its face, this email could be rationally interpreted as suggesting that your membership on that committee could either be advantageous, or disadvantageous to Avista depending upon whether the company supports or opposes your campaign …
“My concern is that this may be at least perceived as being, if it may not actually be, an unethical, if not illegal, form of solicitation,” Sprague responded in an email several days later.
While Sprague wrote he didn’t believe Roach intended to make that impression, he called the email’s content “irrefutable.”
Reached by phone, Sprague said he couldn’t comment because “this became a matter of an official federal investigation.”
Asked if he meant the FBI had been in contact, Sprague said yes and declined to answer further questions. “I’m not going to discuss anything because I was instructed not to say anything,” he said.
Roach said while she’d been surprised Avista was considering supporting Dahlquist two years ago, she had not meant her email as a threat.
“I had no idea this was going to land like it did,” she said, describing the incident as “much ado about nothing.”
After receiving Sprague’s email, Roach removed herself from the energy panel.
Following the flap, Avista sat out the Roach-Dahlquist race. But after Roach won re-election, the company donated the maximum-allowable $950 to her campaign fund, according to state Public Disclosure Commission records.
Roach’s reputation for erupting over political slights is no secret in the state Capitol. Last year, while chairing a legislative committee, she publicly scolded business representatives who’d shown up to testify as “terrible” for donating to Dahlquist.
The Avista incident is not the only one to draw FBI interest.
Pablo Monroy, a Republican candidate for the state 31st District House seat of retiring state Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, said he was interviewed by federal agents after an encounter with Roach at a Bonney Lake Applebee’s.
In March, Monroy had arranged to meet at the restaurant with Phil Fortunato, a Roach-backed rival GOP candidate for Hurst’s seat.
Shortly after the two sat down, Roach showed up, and, according to Monroy, tried to intimidate him out of the race. Monroy, a Navy veteran and brewery co-owner who is gay, said Roach told him he wasn’t a good fit for the district, in part because of his gay activism.
Roach said she was backing Fortunato and would hire him as a legislative aide so he wouldn’t have to worry about a salary and health insurance while campaigning, according to Monroy.
“I was thinking, ‘You can’t be serious about this,’ ” said Monroy, who added that he snapped back at Roach, telling her he still intended to run.
Monroy later described the incident to Hurst, a former police detective who has been a fierce Roach antagonist. The next day, an FBI agent in Tacoma called Monroy and later took a formal statement.
In an interview, Roach called Monroy a dishonest “opportunist” who had no chance of winning in her district. She confirmed offering a job to Fortunato, who declined.
Roach said she’d heard concerns about Monroy’s electability from others in the local GOP. “His husband is a gay activist in downtown Seattle. I don’t think that would go over well in the 31st District,” she said.
Roach and Fortunato were incredulous that the FBI would take any interest in the Applebee’s encounter — the sort of low-grade political sparring that goes on all the time in election years.
“If there was a threat, it was Pablo against us. The guy flew off the handle,” Fortunato said.
The third person to confirm FBI interest in Roach’s activities is Chad Minnick, a GOP consultant.
Minnick, who’d previously worked for Roach but aided her challenger, Dahlquist, in 2014, said he was interviewed by investigators last year. “I did get a call … I answered all the questions,” he said.
Minnick said the feds were interested in accusations he and others made publicly two years ago about Roach claiming inflated expense reimbursements from the state Senate.
After those became a campaign issue in 2014, Roach agreed to repay more than $5,000 for a taxpayer-funded mailbox and cellphone that she’d partly used for campaigning, in violation of state law.
But Minnick and Hurst argued Roach should have been forced to pay back much more and were frustrated Senate administrators and state ethics watchdogs did not move more aggressively.
Roach dismissed Minnick as holding a grudge over the 2014 race. “He really suffered a bad loss. It must have been incredibly embarrassing,” she said.
Roach’s defenders praise her as an outspoken advocate for constituents. Anti-tax initiative promoter Tim Eyman sent a recent email blast calling her “the best friend taxpayers have in Olympia.”
State Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, said in an unsolicited email that he’d worked with Roach for the past two years and saw her as “a tremendous asset for our district.” He added he’d never seen her engage in inappropriate behavior.
But during more than two decades in office, Roach has drawn repeated reprimands from legislative leaders for rude and abusive behavior toward staff and constituents. In 2010, she was barred from the GOP Senate caucus. This year, she was thrown off a human-trafficking task force.
Ex-aide tells all
The latest to accuse her of misbehavior is a former aide, Conner Edwards, who worked for Roach from 2014 until quitting earlier this year after what he described as one too many incidents of verbal abuse.
In an unusual move for a former legislative aide, Edwards has gone public with accusations against his former boss. He testified recently in favor of a Pierce County charter amendment that would prohibit Roach from hanging on to her state Senate seat if she gets elected to the County Council.
Edwards, 24, who now works for a Tacoma political consulting firm whose clients include Monroy, was once close to Roach. But he said the senator has grown increasingly volatile and was now “almost totally focused on increasing her political power and enriching herself.”
After Roach repaid the Senate for wrongful expenses two years ago, Edwards said she became obsessed with “getting her money back” and asked him to look for trips she could take and get reimbursed for. Edwards filed no formal complaints and said the FBI has not contacted him.
Roach responded that Edwards is “bitter” and said he’d behaved unprofessionally when he quit her office. She said she had treated him “like a son” and had never yelled at him.
“It’s Conner who has the problems,” she said.
Roach’s longtime legislative aide, Cheryl Marshall, said Edwards had been a good employee but was very angry when he quit.
In interviews, Edwards also shed new light on a 2014 political shenanigan, saying despite her denials at the time, Roach orchestrated the candidacy of Lynda Messner, who ran as a Democrat that year for Roach’s Senate seat.
Edwards said he’d helped recruit Messner and wrote the news release announcing her candidacy — all at Roach’s behest. The goal was to fool enough Democrats into voting for Messner to possibly knock Dahlquist out in the primary and leave Roach an easy road to re-election.
The scheme failed after news reports surfaced about Messner’s social-media posts in which she’d echoed conservative Republican talking points and called for President Barack Obama’s impeachment.
Messner dodged questions about Roach’s involvement and told a reporter in an email last week she was fed up with “crap, garbage and mudslinging.” Roach said she “never knew Lynda Messner” and denied asking Edwards to recruit her.
Edwards said he had hoped to work again as a legislative aide, but realizes that is now unlikely.
“In this business, confidentiality is everything. I agree with that, but there are cases in which public interest is served,” he said.