SPOKANE, Wash. – Mayor James E. West (search), a Republican foe of gay rights, was accused in a newspaper story Thursday of molesting two boys decades ago and was caught by the paper using the trappings of his office to try to court a young man on a gay Web site.
West on Thursday denied the molestation allegations, but acknowledged he "had relations with adult men."
He admitted offering autographed sports memorabilia and a possible City Hall internship to what he thought was an 18-year-old man on the Web site Gay.com. The man was actually a private computer expert hired by The Spokesman-Review as part of a journalism sting operation.
West, 54, a former Boy Scout (search) leader and Army paratrooper who was married briefly in the 1990s, denied that the online offers constituted abuse of his office, and he said he would serve out the more than three years remaining in his term.
"I am a law-abiding citizen," West said during a brief news conference. He took no questions.
The Spokesman-Review ran interviews Thursday with two men who allege West molested them decades ago when they were Boy Scouts and the mayor was a troop leader and sheriff's deputy. Both men have criminal records because of drug problems.
"I categorically deny allegations about incidents that supposedly occurred 24 years ago as alleged by two convicted felons and about which I have no knowledge," West said.
No criminal investigations are under way, according to sheriff and police departments, which said the statute of limitations for any charges has run out.
West, a conservative with an abrasive style and a fierce temper, rose to become majority leader of the state Senate during a two-decade legislative career. He consistently opposed efforts to expand civil rights protections for gays and voted for the Defense of Marriage Act (search), a ban on gay marriage, in 1998. During a 1990 hearing on AIDS education, West proposed that teen sex be criminalized.
In 1990, he proposed marriage from the floor of the Senate to Ginger Marshall while she was visiting the Capitol. Their marriage ended five years later.
The newspaper said its investigation of West arose out of tips received in 2002 during its investigations of sexual abuse of children by priests.
The newspaper hired a computer expert to create a fictitious identity as an 18-year-old boy to chat with West, who used the online aliases "Cobra82nd" and "RightBi-Guy" to chat on the Web site. West was in the Army's 82nd Airborne.
West said he would not characterize himself as gay. As for his visits to the Gay.com Web site, he told the newspaper: "I can't tell you why I go there, to tell you the truth ... curiosity, confused, whatever, I don't know."
The molestation accusations came in a deposition for a lawsuit against Spokane County by Robert J. Galliher, 36, of Seattle, and other men who claim they were molested by another sheriff's deputy at the time, David Hahn. West was not named as a defendant and said he was unaware of the deposition.
In interviews with the newspaper, Galliher and a second man, Michael G. Grant Jr., 31, said they were introduced to West by Hahn in the late 1970s or early '80s, when the two sheriff's deputies were close friends and leaders of a Boy Scout troop.
Hahn committed suicide in 1981 after being publicly accused of molesting boys.
Steve Smith, editor of The Spokesman-Review, told The Associated Press that the newspaper was reluctant to hire the computer expert but felt it was necessary because of West's possible abuse of office and the potential for harm to young people.
The expert was hired to corroborate accounts from several individuals who said they had had online relationships with West, including at least one teen who said the contact led to consensual sex, the newspaper said.
Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, a think tank for journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla., said the newspaper's decision appeared to be appropriate.
"The issue is deception," said McBride, a former Spokesman-Review reporter. "As a reporter, you don't pretend to be somebody else. Where this gets really fuzzy is on the Internet, where everybody uses anonymity. I don't believe reporters should refrain from going into anonymous communities."