Here is the question that I have asked myself many times. If I had known that the FBI Agents who were guests in the hotel where I was Senior Auditor, were about to raid my home town, would I have made "The Call", and possibly have staved off the carnage that was about to unfold? Of course, in a hotel may miles away from Wallace, why would I have even remotely possibly have an idea that the agents there were leaving to raid little old Wallace? Now , I ask you, what would you have done had you known, and if you were a Wallace native?
Well, fortunately, or unfortunately, I did not know, and in the early morning hours, 150 FBI agents raided and destroyed the gambling "industry" of the metropolis of Wallace, Idaho, population 1000 on a good day. Here is a little clip from the New York Times about the raid.
Well, all of these years have passed, and maybe it is time to thank the FBI for saving all of those poor souls from those devil slot machines. (:)-or not.The raid was the biggest single Federal law-enforcement raid ever in the Rocky Mountain region, said James T. Screen, a spokesman for the F.B.I. in Salt Lake City. Not since the late 19th century, when Federal troops were sent here to battle union organizers, have so many Government agents moved so heavily against one community in the region.Residents of this valley, which once produced more silver than any other place on earth but is now poverty-stricken and polluted, say the raid can be explained more by the area's reputation than by any real criminal enterprise. Panhandle Goes Its Own Way
"Here you've got a community that's always lived a little bit outside the law," said Chris Stuecker, a local contractor who specializes in renovating historic houses. "And then you get an outside agency, like the F.B.I., that doesn't understand that we're just average folks, and they hear about all these gambling devices and it gets them going."
Mr. Stuecker helped to organize a rally last month to protest the raid, and about 200 people attended.
This town of about 1,000 people is a national historic site, an example of the boom-and-bust mining towns that used to dot mountain valleys throughout the West. Even the newer buildings here look archaic. But, Federal officials say, it is not just architecture that is frozen in time in the Silver Valley: so are attitudes.
Many residents and some public officials of the valley admit that their county is different from most. Idaho is better known for potatoes and Mormons than gambling and prostitution. But the northern part of the state, in the mountainous panhandle, has always gone its own way.
When the silver mines were running rich, the area was full of rough-edged men who spent their earnings on the basic vices of typical mining and timber camps -- gambling and prostitution. Once, more than a dozen brothels operated in Wallace, local residents say.
But the Silver Valley has changed dramatically in the last decade. As the mines have closed and toxic levels of lead have been found in local streams and soil, Shoshone County has lost more than 27 percent of its residents, down to about 14,000 now. Unemployment has been running at more than 20 percent, and last year the last known brothel went out of business. "It died a natural death," said Dick Caron, who owns the Wallace Corner, a general store. 'Corruption of Public Officials'
Federal agents say local authorities have long tolerated the traditional forms of vice here, and the raid was intended to end that. "Corruption of public officials was the focus," said Mr. Screen of the F.B.I.
The case is being handled by the Justice Department's Division of Public Integrity, a unit in Washington, D.C., used primarily to prosecute corrupt elected officials. Department officials would not comment on the investigation.
Grand jury proceedings are under way in Boise, but no one has yet been indicted. Agents Confiscate $500,000
The 150 F.B.I. agents raided 58 bars, breaking down doors and windows in some cases. So many agents were needed, Mr. Screen said, because there were so many bars.
The agents confiscated more than $500,000 in cash from various bars and seized all the video poker machines. The machines are legal in Idaho but are considered unlawful by the state if they are used for actual gambling -- that is, if the bar pays players for points scored on the machines. 'We're Talking Quarter Games'
Rather than expressing outrage at crimes that the authorities say were going on in their midst, Wallace residents have directed their anger at the F.B.I.
"What we have in these saloons is no more harmful than bowling on Sundays," Mr. Caron said. "It's petty, insignificant, victimless entertainment. We're talking quarter games."
Jack Rose, the Shoshone County Prosecutor, said, "I think the F.B.I. would be better served trying to solve the many killings back in their headquarters city, the murder capital of the nation."
Mr. Rose said that he had done nothing wrong and that he was not aware of any gambling on the video poker machines.
F.B.I. agents, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Rose was one of the public officials under investigation. Justice Department officials refused to comment.
T-shirts criticizing the F.B.I. quickly sold out at Dickison's Trading Post here. A local newspaper, The Silver Valley Voice, published a satirical front-page picture of a clownish-looking man, posing in fake nose and glasses, wearing an F.B.I. hat and shorts while standing in front of a bar.
Several hundred people have signed a petition calling for a Congressional investigation of the raid; it accuses the agency of selective enforcement of the law. 'Colorful Way of Life'
Video poker machines can be found throughout the state, said Keith Mathews, assistant director of the Idaho Department of Law Enforcement. "I don't think that Shoshone County is any different than any other part of Idaho," he said.
The area's Representative in Congress, Larry LaRocco, a freshman Democrat from Boise, said the raid left him with many questions.
"I wonder if they are using an F-117 when a small rifle would do the job," Mr. LaRocco said, adding that the Silver Valley has long had a "live and let live" attitude and "colorful way of life" that local officials have tolerated.
Mr. Caron, the merchant, said, "We might be hicks in the sticks, but we know what overkill is."
Of course, I must declare here that I do not know now, nor have I ever known, that gambling, prostitution, and even sex or evil of any kind ever existed in Wallace, and that is the truth, and nothing but the truth, maybe.
PS, I still laugh when I think that all of those agents at the hotel I was working in had no idea that a Wallace native was right there in front of them.