Lewiston Morning Tribune Thursday, July 24, 1997

FEMA raid still talk of the town; Orofino residents puzzled over feds' tactics in seizure last week

Tara Tuchscherer

OROFINO -- Almost a week after federal agents raided Clearwater County's flood command center, the town is still talking about storm trooper tactics, bullet-proof vests and a power-drunk federal government.

"You just don't want to believe it," Neal Johnson said as he sat in J-2 Barber Shop on College Avenue. "You think the federal government wouldn't treat you that way.

"It awes me that they used those tactics when the county made all those records totally available."

Agents from the Federal Emergency Management Agency raided the command center early Friday morning, telling county commission Chairman Earl Pickett they were looking for "possible criminal intent to defraud the government."

The agents, sporting bulletproof vests, drove off with two vans and a station wagon full of documents.

FEMA's tactics aren't all the town is talking about.

"No one knows why they did it; no one has any idea," Johnson said.

Johnson and barber Jim Whidener expressed confidence in the county government that has recently found itself under a federal microscope.

"I really don't think they have anything," Johnson said of FEMA's investigation.

But rumors are running rampant about what happened while Orofino roads were being repaired with federal money.

No one, however, was willing to speak publicly.

County Prosecutor John Swayne said the commissioners would hold a news conference Friday at 10 a.m. to bring people up to date.

But, he warned, there's not much to tell.

"We still don't know what is going on," he said.

The county commission had scheduled a meeting in Boise with Gov. Phil Batt today, but Batt canceled the meeting, Julie Sneddon of the governor's office said.

It would be inappropriate to meet at this time because the county is under federal investigation, she said.

Swayne would not disclose whether the commissioners or Sheriff Nick Albers, who runs the command center, have been subpoenaed to a grand jury in August in Boise.

More than a dozen county employees have been ordered to appear in Boise Aug. 12.