On Monday, since it was a holiday, Stan took the family out to breakfast. After they�d returned home, he went outside to get the newspaper. He was shocked to see Brad Thornton�s face on the front page with the headline, �Local Businessman Under Investigation�...
"FBI agents executed a search warrant at the home of local businessman Brad Thornton. The agent in charge would not comment on the search, but said it was part of an ongoing investigation. Informed sources familiar with the case claim there have been accusations of money laundering against Mr. Thornton in the past and the search today may be related to those accusations."
Stan rushed inside to show Rebekah the article. She was putting a load of clothes in the washer. "Look at this news report," he said. "It looks like Brad Thornton�s in some kind of trouble."
"What? You�ve got to be kidding," Rebekah said, grabbing the newspaper from him. "We were just with him last night."
"I know. Rob�s gonna be devastated. Thornton�s been bank rolling his campaign."
"You think they�ll arrest him?"
Stan shrugged. "I don�t know, but if they do, I�m sure Rob�s funding will dry up."
"What will he do if that happens?"
"Find new contributors, if he can."
"I should call Cindy," Rebekah said.
"Yeah, do that. I was about to head over to Republican headquarters to meet Kristina. I�m sure she�ll know what�s going on. Tell Rob I�ll call him later."
"Okay. Don�t be too long. You promised the kids you�d take them to Penny Whistle Park today."
"Alright. I�ll be back by two. That should give us plenty of time."
Rebekah nodded and went to call Cindy. Stan said goodbye to the kids and then left to go downtown to Republican headquarters. It was a hot day, so Stan had dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt. Kristina was just walking up to the front door when he drove up. She was wearing shorts with a halter top. Her legs were nicely tanned and perfectly shaped. Stan gazed at them a moment before he got out.
"Hi, Stan," Kristina said.
Stan smiled and walked up to her. "Hi. Good timing."
"Yes, I was afraid I was going to be late. The phone�s been ringing off the wall today."
"Oh? Because of the newspaper article this morning?"
"Right. You saw that?"
Stan nodded. "Yeah. I can�t believe it."
Kristina unlocked the door, and they walked in and turned on the lights. It was a small three-room office. In one of the rooms was a small conference table. Stan took a seat at the table and looked up a Kristina expectantly.
"Coffee?" Kristina asked.
"Sure, if you�re having some."
She nodded, went over to a kitchen area where there was a coffee pot, and filled it with water.
"So, one of the calls was from my sister Molly. She works as a secretary at the Sheriff�s Office and overheard two deputies talking about the investigation. I guess the sheriff has been working with the FBI on the case."
"Really? What are the money laundering allegations they were talking about in the article?"
"Well, a few years ago, Thornton wanted to retire, so he sold his share of an import/export business to his partners for several million dollars. His retirement didn�t last long however. Soon, he was investing his money in several new ventures. One of them was Silver Springs Lake, a small lake that had filled up with sediment over the years and become worthless for any recreational purposes. The community around the lake became rundown, and the property values plummeted. Thornton came in and bought up all the property for a tenth of its original value. He drained the water out of the lake and began processing the sediment into commercial mulch. After he�d mined all the mulch, he had the lake dredged to an acceptable depth and then filled it back up with water. Once that was done, he started a rehabilitation project for the homes around the lake. Of course, with the lake rejuvenated, the value of the real estate skyrocketed."
"Okay, but that just sounds like he�s a hell of a businessman."
"True, but there were rumors Thornton had teamed up with some Mexican drug dealers and that he was running their drug money through his Silver Springs Ventures and returning it to them in valuable lakefront property."
"Well, I don�t know much about money laundering. I understand the concept, but I�m not exactly sure how it works."
"I don�t understand it either," Kristina said. "It�s very complicated."
"So, I guess that�s why Thornton is such a big contributor to all the politicians in the county," Stan reasoned. "He wants to dampen their enthusiasm for any investigation of his businesses."
"That�s a possibility. I think that�s why the feds got involved. The sheriff and district attorney are Thornton�s best friends, so they�ve protected him."
"I�m worried about Rob," Stan said. "Thornton and Rob are good friends. Rob may be involved in some of his ventures. I�ve overheard them talking about Silver Springs Lake before. I know Thornton has somehow contributed a lot of money to his campaign."
Kristina shrugged. "Well, if Thornton is guilty I�m quite sure he wouldn�t have left any incriminating evidence around his house, so I doubt they�ll be able to prosecute him."
"Well, only time will tell. I guess we won�t put Thornton on the President�s reception list after all."
Kristina laughed. "No. We probably shouldn�t."
"Rob wants to be on the list. I think he�s prepared to support President Ford if he gets the nomination. So, with you, Rob, and me, that leaves nine more to pick."
"You�re going to put me on the list?" Kristina asked.
Stan frowned. "Of course! You�ve earned it."
"I�m flattered but�"
"No buts. You�re on the list."
Kristina smiled. "I suppose we should put Commissioner Barnes on the list. He�s a Democrat, but he�s talking about switching parties."
"Yeah, Paul Barnes. I think there�ll be a lot party switching as the county becomes more Republican. Why don�t we tell him if he switches, we�ll let him come to the reception and announce the switch at the President�s news conference? That should provide him a lot of good publicity, and it will demonstrate the President�s ability to garner Democratic support."
"Brilliant. I think he�ll go for that."
Stan and Kristina worked another hour on the reception list before it was completed. Then they locked up the office and went home. When Stan walked in the door, not only were all his kids waiting anxiously to go to Penny Whistle Park, but Rob and Cindy�s kids were there too.
"Daddy! Daddy! You�re finally home," Mark said excitedly. John, Paul, and Jenny are coming too."
"I see that," Stan said.
"Let�s go, Dad," Reggie said. "We�re all ready."
"What took you so long?" Marcia asked. "We�ve been waiting for hours."
"Rebekah laughed. "I packed you a lunch. I don�t imagine you had time to eat."
"No, I didn�t. Thanks."
"So, are Rob and Cindy coming?"
"No. I offered to take her kids off her hands for the afternoon. Apparently Rob�s not taking the Thornton matter too well."
"Oh, right. They�re good friends."
"More like family."
They all went out the front door and began piling in the station wagon. Stan locked up and then joined them in the car.
"So, what exactly did Cindy have to say about Thornton?" Stan asked as he backed out of the driveway.
"Oh, the FBI is coming by to talk to Rob about him tomorrow," Rebekah replied.
"What? You�ve got to be kidding."
"No. He�d like you to be there when they come."
"What? Why me? I don�t know anything about Thornton or his involvement with him."
"I know, but you�re in law school. He figures you can tell him what to say."
"I can�t give him legal advice. I don�t have a license, not to mention the fact I have no experience in dealing with the FBI."
"You successfully defended yourself at your court martial, didn�t you? You were dealing with the FBI then."
"I had legal counsel."
"You told me your lawyer was worthless and had you relied on him, you�d have been convicted."
�That�s true. It�s legal for me to defend myself, but until I get a license, I can�t defend someone else."
"He�ll feel better if you�re there, even if it�s just as a friend. It couldn�t hurt."
"The FBI won�t allow it. They�ll want him alone. But I guess I can go over there ahead of time and prep him."
"Good. Cindy�s worried Rob will have to drop out of the race if his campaign funding dries up."
"He can�t drop out of the race now. It�s too late to get a new Republican candidate."
"Did she say whether Rob invested in any of Thornton�s business ventures?"
"No, but Cindy says Rob is scared and depressed over the situation."
Stan told her what he had learned from Kristina about Thornton�s business ventures.
"Oh, God. I hope he�s not involved in anything illegal. Cindy and the kids would be devastated."
"Is Daddy in trouble," Jenny asked from the back seat.
Rebekah turned and looked at Jenny. She was eight, the eldest of the Shepard children. "No, honey. One of his friends is in trouble."
"Uncle Brad. Daddy�s scared �cause he knows too much."
A chill darted through Rebekah. Stan glanced back at Jenny and forced a smile. He wondered what Jenny had overheard.
"He never mentioned any investments to me," Stan finally said, "but that�s not something that would necessarily come up. I did hear them talking about the lake project. Thornton was pretty proud of it. All I know is that somehow Thornton is providing the funding for Rob�s campaign. I�m not sure how though. I guess I�ll find out tomorrow."
After they�d spent a few hours at Penny Whistle Park, they went to dinner at McDonald�s. It was after seven when they finally pulled up in front of the Shepard house to drop off the kids. Rob came out to greet them as they drove up.
"Hi, Rob," Stan said.
"Hey. Thanks for taking the kids this afternoon. It�s been a horrible day."
"No problem. Glad we could help."
"Are you going to be able to come over tomorrow?"
"I don�t know how much help I�d be. Since I�m not an attorney yet, they probably wouldn�t let me be in the interview with you."
Rob sighed. "Damn it!"
"What I can do is to prep you for the interview. If you want, I could come over early tomorrow so we can talk before they arrive."
" No, I won�t be able to sleep. Can we talk right now?"
" We need to take the kids home and put them to bed right now.
"Alright. Call me when you get them settled."
"I can�t prep you over the phone. There�s no guarantee of privacy."
"Okay. You want to meet somewhere later?"
"Yeah. How about Denny�s? That�s usually a good place to talk."
"That�ll work. I�ll see you there in thirty minutes."
Stan looked at Rebekah. She nodded, and they got in the car and drove home.
"What was all that about privacy? Do you think his phone is tapped?"
"Possibly�particularly if the FBI sees him as an accomplice."
"How do you know talking at Denny�s is safe?"
"I don�t, but it�s usually pretty noisy, and the FBI won�t have had time to bug the place."
Rebekah swallowed hard. Cindy was her best friend, and the thought of Rob being in trouble was unbearable. She�d met Cindy a year earlier at a Republican function, and they�d hit it off immediately. Cindy loved having a nurse for a friend since one of her three kids seemed to be sick all the time. On the other hand, Rebekah loved to have someone to talk to when she�d had a stressful day at the hospital. Cindy was a good listener and loved to hear Rebekah�s complaints about rude patients or incompetent doctors. Stan gave her a kiss and left.
Stan was relieved to see that Denny�s was pretty crowded. He didn�t want anyone overhearing what Rob had to say to him. It was dangerous for Rob to be telling him anything incriminating. There would be no attorney-client privilege, so if the FBI questioned Stan later, theoretically, he�d have to tell them what he knew. Of course, he could claim a bad memory, but that was a dangerous thing for an aspiring attorney to do. Stan parked his car and looked around for Rob. He saw him getting out of his car on the other side of the parking lot and go inside. A few minutes later, Stan went in and joined him in a booth.
"Hi, Stan. Thanks for coming."
"No problem. What a rotten turn of events, huh?"
The waitress came over and took their order.
"Tell me about it. Everything was going so well. I can�t believe this is happening."
"So, what did the FBI say they wanted to talk about?"
"They didn�t say. They just said they needed to talk to me."
"Do you know anything about Thornton�s businesses?"
"Not really. He�s told me about some of them, of course, but I�ve never actually seen them."
"So, why do you think the FBI wants to talk to you?"
"I don�t know. Maybe it�s the way he�s been financing my campaign."
Stan frowned, fearful of what he was about to hear. "What do you mean?"
"When he recruited me to run for state representative, he told me I wouldn�t have to worry about financing the campaign. He said he�d make sure I had plenty of money. I just assumed he meant he had a lot of contacts and they�d do fund-raising events for me, but that�s not what he had in mind."
"What was his plan?"
"He said the law wouldn�t allow him to just write me a check for what I needed, but that I could spend my own money and it would be quite legal. I told him I didn�t have any money, and that�s when he told me what he had in mind."
"Oh, God. What did have you do?"
Rob took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Well, he had me invest $25,000 in one of his ventures for ninety days. When the ninety days was up, he paid me back $75,000."
"I thought you didn�t have any money. Where did you come up with $25,000?"
"I just wrote him a check that didn�t get cashed until he paid me the $75,000 return on my investment."
"Oh, shit!" Stan said. "Why did you go along with that?"
Rob shrugged. "I don�t know. It seemed harmless. I didn�t figure anyone would ever know."
"Did you report the profit on your income taxes?"
Stan sighed. The waitress showed up with two cups of coffee and two pieces of pie. Stan smiled at her as she set them down. When she was gone, he continued. "Rob, if you make $50,000 profit, you�ve got to pay taxes on it. Didn�t you report it on last year�s income tax return?"
"Ah. Actually, I haven�t filed yet."
"Well, that�s good news. Be sure and report it. Otherwise, they�ll come after you for income tax evasion. Did you file an extension?"
"Uh huh. My accountant filed it."
"Good. What kind of paperwork was there with the investment with Thornton?"
"I signed something. I can�t remember exactly what it said."
"Do you have a copy?"
"I don�t think so. I trusted Brad. I�ve known him for a long time."
Stan wondered what he should tell Rob�that he needed to hire an attorney. If Rob was telling the truth, then he may just be an innocent victim of Thornton�s attempt to get a friendly legislator elected, but Stan wasn�t sure Rob was coming clean with him.
"Did Brad tell you he expected anything in return for financing your campaign?"
"No, not exactly."
"But you knew he would expect to be influential in your decisions."
"I guess, but I�m my own man. If I didn�t agree with Brad, I would vote my conscience."
"Of course," Stan said and looked away.
"So, what should I say to them?"
"Well, if you are going to talk to them, you should tell the truth, but you probably shouldn�t talk to them."
"You�ve done some things that are suspicious at best, and if Thornton has been doing anything illegal, then you�ll be dragged into it. You could refuse to talk to them and go consult a good criminal attorney."
"But if I do that, I�ll look guilty. It will damage my campaign."
"True, but you won�t have incriminated yourself. Right now, they don�t have anything on you, but if you answer just one of their questions wrong, it could be all over for you�Really, you should get a criminal attorney."
"Oh, Jesus. Why did this have to happen? Damn it. Everything was going so well."
"I know. I wish there was something I could do."
Rob sighed. "Okay. I guess that�s what I�ll do. Do you know a good attorney?"
"Not really. Ask your father. He�s been around town a long time. He probably knows who the best criminal attorney in the county is."
"Oh, God. What will he think of me?"
"He�s family. He�ll understand."
Rob nodded. The waitress came by and dropped off their check. Rob picked it up, slid out of the booth, and stood up. Stan gave him a sympathetic look and then followed him to the register. When they were outside, Stan wished Rob good luck, and they both went their separate ways.