March 9th, 2010
How Kimball gained the bureau’s trust and won his freedom
By John Aguilar
Camera Staff Writer
Although few details are public, it’s clear that Kimball — a career white-collar criminal who had served countless stints in jail and prison — gathered or fabricated information behind bars and shared it with authorities when it might benefit him.
He earned $1,865 as an informant for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in 1999.
He fed authorities information about the still-unsolved murder of federal prosecutor Tom Wales, who was shot to death in his Seattle home in October 2001.
And in February 2002, while imprisoned in Alaska on suspicion of check fraud, he told a U.S. Secret Service agent that his cellmate wanted to take a hit out on four people, including a federal judge and prosecutor.
In the Alaska case, Kimball reported that his cellmate Arnold Flowers and Flowers’ girlfriend, Sompong Khamsomphou, asked him to hire a hitman to kill U.S. District Judge Russel Holland, U.S. Attorney Crandon Randell and two witnesses.
Kimball said Flowers, who faced bank-fraud charges, told him he wanted one of the witnesses put in a “crab pot” and thrown overboard “so no one would ever find the body.”
A federal grand jury indicted Flowers and Khamsomphou on charges of murder-for-hire, witness tampering and attempted murder of federal officials.
But in a trial held the following year, a jury found the couple guilty of the lesser charge of conspiracy to tamper with a witness. Kimball testified during the trial.
“The jury didn’t believe anything Mr. Kimball had to say,” said Hugh Fleischer, an Anchorage attorney who represented Flowers. “We think Kimball manufactured information about my client and took it to the federal government. We attacked his credibility, and the jury agreed that it was entrapment.”
Flowers and Khamsomphou were sentenced to eight years and five years in prison, respectively.
That case led FBI Special Agent Carle Schlaff to believe Kimball when he said Ennis, his cellmate in Colorado, asked him to help Jennifer Marcum kill a fellow drug dealer.
Kimball had “previously provided information to law enforcement” that Schlaff believed was credible, the agent wrote in an affidavit.
“I think there was a particular FBI agent that was conned by a con,” said Leo Gallagher, a Montana county attorney who had been pushing for Kimball to be brought to trial on outstanding charges there.
He said Schlaff repeatedly asked him to delay the case, successfully keeping the informant on the street.
“Initially, I was furious,” Gallagher said. “Then they started to explain to me that he was a very important person and to delay dropping the hammer on him until he could get his work done.”
The feds “got played,” Gallagher said.
FBI Special Agent in Charge James Davis wouldn’t comment on any undercover assignments Kimball may have done for the bureau, but he said dealing with informants is an “unfortunate requirement of doing this kind of work.”
Agents are trained to evaluate potential sources for credibility and reliability, he said. And the bureau follows a rigid set of protocols to guard against outside sources abusing their positions.
That’s especially true, he said, if an informant is going to be considered for release from prison, a decision that is made in concert with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and approved by a federal judge.
“When you go out and identify for recruitment, the first thing you want to know is does he have access (to information),” Davis said. “And if he does, what’s the downside?”