We have received many allegations ... regarding unsolved murders, drugs, a pornography ring involving minors, and narcotics being sold openly around schools to students and faculty members. . . . --Tehama County Grand Jury
Many in this small lumber and farming community find it hard to believe they live in a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah.
But others point to more than five years of recurring accusations, rumors and innuendoes about a thriving crime underworld perhaps protected by local authorities and say things like, “Where there’s smoke, there’s got to be fire.”
The talk of the town, this time, from the Roundup Saloon to Dog Island Park, is a report by the outgoing 1986-87 Tehama County Grand Jury.
The jury’s county government committee, operating in secrecy from the rest of the jury, said it “received many allegations and suppositions with regard to unsolved murders, drugs, a pornog1918988392being sold openly around schools to students and faculty members, and other allegations.”
‘Threats of Harm’
“The preponderance of those interviewed, both men and women, have indicated their names absolutely not be released to anyone due to threats of physical harm they have received to themselves and their families,” the report says.
“The committee feels that it is impossible to bring any recommendation for indictments to the full grand jury” because of the group’s expiration June 30, says the report, “and we remand it to the 1987-88 grand jury,” which has yet to go into full operation or to say that it will investigate.
People in the community of 11,000 people along Interstate 5 about 130 miles northwest of Sacramento express mixed feelings.
Delene Guest, washing windows outside her downtown store, said that, to her, activities such as those in the report “seem like they’re everywhere.”
“It bothers me, but what can I do about it? I’m not immune to it, but you feel kind of helpless. I think most people do,” she said.
Langford Conedy, an 80-year-old retired railroad worker, said: “A lot of people come by and talk about it. Most don’t believe it. A few say, ‘Hey, I think something’s going on.’ ”
Grand jury members said they turned over materials to the FBI containing allegations of wrongdoing by several people, including Ronald Koenig, a former Tehama County sheriff and current state parole board chief.
Koenig has denied the accusations, which involve pornography and drugs. He was unavailable for comment because he left on a long-planned vacation, a secretary said.
FBI agents said on July 29 that the information contained nothing that warranted an investigation, and returned the materials to the county government jury members.
However, Dist. Atty. James Lang has served subpoenas to members of the committee, ordering them to appear with all materials before the new grand jury.
Lang, who also said he will conduct his own investigation into the matter, took exception to grand jurors’ comments that sources did not fully trust local authorities and feared reprisals. But he added that danger always exists in matters associated with the drug community.
Also, the state Justice Department said it is investigating unspecified charges against Koenig, based on information supplied by a source outside the grand jury.
‘I’m Sick of This’
Dian Bryngelson, chairwoman of the jury’s county government committee, said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen. . . . I’m sick of this.” She then declined further comment, saying a judge had instructed outgoing and incoming jurors not to publicly discuss any matters.
Shan Patterson, foreman of the outgoing grand jury, said the committee’s secrecy was “completely, clearly, and blatantly outside the norm,” adding that he believed Koenig to be an honest man, that some of the sources were “not very solid,” and that perhaps the entire matter stems from “someone who has a very deep grudge” against Koenig.
Bill Goodyear, the editor of the Red Bluff Daily News, who has worked as a newsman in the town for 15 years, says that most of the comments he has heard from residents are variations of, “Here we go again.”
Goodyear points to prior investigations by the Tehama County Grand Jury, the district attorney’s office and the state Justice Department that cleared Koenig. The FBI also looked into charges against Koenig briefly last year before dropping the matter.
“The people who have had comments in my presence (regarding the latest round of allegations) say, ‘Baloney,’ ” he said. “The first couple of times, people said, ‘What’s he been up to?’
“Where is it coming from? Where were the new-old allegations during the first investigation?
“If Ron Koenig is a crook, he should be giving lessons to the White House, because he would have to be the best since the dawn of time at covering his tracks.”
Goodyear described Koenig as a longtime Red Bluff resident, a churchgoer and a family man who is perceived generally as an “average nice guy.”
The editor said there are unsolved murders that are believed to be linked to the drug community, but adds that such is the case in almost every community.
The grand jury’s county government committee report also included complaints against the Sheriff’s Department.
“A recurring allegation from citizens concerns the difference between sheriff’s investigators’ written reports and their later testimony under oath,” the report says.
“The allegation is that their testimony has omissions and even changes from what was actually seen and reported at the scene.
“The contention is that this causes a loss of possible conviction or indictment in many cases. Conversely, innocent people could be convicted or indicted.”
Sheriff Mike Blanusa, who has denied any involvement by his department in such actions, was out of town for meetings and unavailable for comment, a secretary said.
In a situation full of mysteries, there’s one more.
The Red Bluff Daily News, in an editorial, has asked who is paying a private investigator, Ken Van Buskirk of Folsom, who said he supplied information to the the grand jury.
Van Buskirk has declined to identify his client.