Murmurs: Feds Open Criminal Investigation Into La Mota and Fagan

In other news: Democrats begin looking at congressional seat.

FEDS OPEN CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION INTO LA MOTA AND FAGAN: Federal investigators have issued subpoenas seeking records from at least two state agencies about former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan and her connections to the troubled cannabis firm La Mota, state officials with direct knowledge tell WW. The Oregonian first reported June 5 that the feds were subpoenaing records related to Fagan and La Mota. The Oregon Government Ethics Commission declined to release records, but executive director Ron Bersin confirmed that his agency had received a subpoena. The Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission also confirmed it had been issued a subpoena. The Oregon Department of Justice did not comment on the investigation by print deadline. Fagan resigned last month after WW reported on her lucrative consulting contract with the founders of La Mota, who were also prominent donors to Fagan’s campaign. At least one other aspect of the La Mota saga may be of interest to federal investigators: WW has documented that the founders of La Mota and entities they control have been issued more than $4 million in tax liens by the feds in recent years.

DEMOCRATS BEGIN LOOKING AT CONGRESSIONAL SEAT: U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.) wrested the 5th Congressional District seat from Democrats in 2022 after 26 years of Democratic control. In that contest, Chavez-DeRemer, a former mayor of Happy Valley, defeated Democratic nominee Jamie McLeod Skinner by 2.2 percentage points. At least three Democrats are taking a hard look at challenging Chavez-DeRemer next year in a swing district centered in Clackamas, Deschutes and Linn counties, where Democrats hold a 24,000-voter registration advantage. Skinner McLeod, a lawyer and engineer who defeated seven-term U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) in the 2022 primary, says she’s “very seriously considering” running again next year. Metro Council President Lynn Peterson, who won reelection to her office last year, is also looking at the seat. Peterson is still on the fence but says, “I’m proud of the work we’re doing regionally and would love to see that spirit of teamwork and focus on results in Congress.” State Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Happy Valley), who twice defeated Chavez-DeRemer in legislative races, is also pondering 2024. “I am being encouraged by a lot of Oregonians to consider running for Congress,” Bynum says.

FEDERAL JUDGE SAYS REFUSING TREATMENT CAN’T DELAY MENTAL PATIENTS’ RELEASE: U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman ruled June 5 that Oregon State Hospital’s accelerated early release timelines may not be extended when patients refuse treatment. Mosman ordered the timelines last year. Several local judges have pressed the issue in recent months, demanding that the state psychiatric hospital hold patients beyond the one-year limit because they refuse to take medication to restore them to competency so they can face trial. (In one recent case in Washington County, a judge ruled that a woman accused of murder should be kept at the hospital for almost another year because the hospital had not, until recently, been involuntarily medicating her.) But in his Monday ruling, Mosman refused to budge, noting that state statute says the timelines are “measured from the defendant’s initial custody date.” Jesse Merrithew, an attorney for Metropolitan Public Defender, and Emily Cooper with Disability Rights Oregon, who have advocated for the early releases to shorten a lengthening waitlist at the hospital, slammed the local judges’ decisions in a memorandum filed June 2. “Allowing judges to second-guess those decisions, and extend the duration of a patient’s confinement whenever they deem the choices to be wrong, threatens to undermine the entire purpose of this Court’s remedial order as well as established legal jurisprudence.”

UTILITY FEES SPLIT CITY COUNCIL: While a plan to ban daylight camping on Portland streets is drawing the most attention at City Hall, another question—what the city should charge utility and cellphone companies like Verizon and Comcast for access to the right of way—is splitting the City Council. A proposal by City Commissioner Carmen Rubio would standardize how the city charges those companies for laying down infrastructure. Utility and cell companies, as well as the Portland Business Alliance, are lobbying against that proposal and accuse the city of a cash grab. Compared to other major cities along the West Coast, Portland has high right-of-way rates. Commissioners Mingus Mapps and Rene Gonzalez are likely to vote against the ordinance next week. Rubio, whose office crafted the policy, says she will vote for it. Commissioner Dan Ryan and Mayor Ted Wheeler appear to be undecided.

FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION: Willamette Week took home 12 awards, 10 of them first prizes, in a five-state journalism contest among Pacific Northwest newsrooms. Our wins included prizes for an investigation into the business dealings of Dr. Robert Pamplin Jr.; a look at a beloved city park beset by gun violence; and a detailing of the multistate crime ring trafficking stolen catalytic converters out of a house on Oswego Lake. The Society of Professional Journalists announced winners in the NW Excellence in Journalism Contest earlier this week. WW competed with medium-sized publications—with six to 20 full-time newsroom employees—in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska for work published in 2022.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.