Original article no longer available
This story was published Wednesday, June 18th, 2003
By Shirley Wentworth Herald Basin bureau
OTHELLO — The FBI claims an Othello man who is accused of making false bomb threats admitted about a year ago to making the phone calls.
Richard Vialpando, 40, is being held on federal charges for allegedly threatening to blow up Grand Coulee Dam, the Keller Ferry and a nearby marina on Lake Roosevelt, as well as the Bremerton Naval Station.
According to the federal indictment, Vialpando made nine threatening phone calls between Aug. 21, 2001, and Feb. 5, 2002. He is being held in the Spokane County jail and is to appear today before U.S. Magistrate Cynthia Imbrogno at a 9:30 a.m. detention hearing in U.S. District Court.
FBI agent Norm Brown said Tuesday that federal agents tracked the nine phone calls to various phone booths in Othello, and investigators found Vialpando’s fingerprints in one of the booths.
Brown said FBI agents believe Vialpando made the phone calls to the marina as well as to the FBI and to KREM-TV in Spokane.
He said Vialpando confessed about a year ago to making the phone calls, but he did not know why it took so long to arrest him.
“That’s a good question for the U.S. Attorney,” he said.
A call to the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Tuesday was not returned.
Jerry Gendron, general manager of the Keller Ferry Marina on Lake Roosevelt, said his office had received three threats by phone and considered them serious enough to evacuate the marina and nearby campgrounds on two occasions.
Officials from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and the National Parks Service checked the area for bombs but did not find any evidence, he said.
Gendron said there are procedures and checkpoints the marina monitors, and it would be very difficult to load explosives onto a boat.
“We had to shut down the marina for the better part of two days until we got the OK from law enforcement officials,” he said, adding that the August closing cost the marina a lot of business. “But the safety of our visitors and employees come first.”
Debbie Nelson, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Ephrata office, which oversees Grand Coulee Dam, said her office did not directly receive bomb threats.
She said, however, she knew about the calls and believed they were made to an FBI office and to KREM-TV in Spokane. She said it would take an extremely large amount of explosives to damage the dam.
Nelson said she could not give out security details, but that security guards and law enforcement agents patrol the dam 24/7.
The Keller Ferry, which crosses Lake Roosevelt as part of Highway 21, is operated by the state Department of Transportation. Al Gilson, a transportation spokesman, said DOT officials did not directly receive calls threatening the ferry.
However, Gilson said a comment that could be construed as a threat was made by one individual to another in the Lake Roosevelt community, and was ultimately reported to law enforcement authorities.
Family members said Vialpando was diagnosed with bipolar manic depression several years ago and takes antidepressants. He reportedly is unable to work, does not own a phone nor drive.
Leo Gaeta, a mental health counselor and administrator at Columbia Basin Health Association, did not know of Vialpando’s arrest until Monday when a Tri-City Herald reporter called him. He said he had not talked with Vialpando in quite a while, and he could not discuss Vialpando’s mental condition because of confidentiality.
Gaeta did say there’s a potential to misinterpret Vialpando’s comments and that his mental condition should be re-evaluated before standing trial.