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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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Special prosecutor to review Kennewick mayor’s use of sexual services at massage parlors

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KENNEWICK — A Pierce County prosecutor will decide if Kennewick’s former mayor should face any criminal charges after telling police he paid for sexual services at illicit massage parlors.

Benton County Prosecutor Eric Eisinger is asking Prosecutor Mary Robnett to review the case for potential charges against Bill McKay.

Eisinger told the Tri-City Herald he felt it was necessary to have someone from outside Benton County and Kennewick take a look at the information.

He asked Kennewick police to turn over all of materials they have concerning McKay to Robnett, who worked as a deputy prosecutor in Tacoma and spent nearly six years as an assistant attorney general in the Sexually Violent Predators unit.

“It’s so important for me to ensure that justice is not done behind closed doors,” Eisinger told the Herald.

It’s the latest development following McKay’s sudden resignation last week just as members of the city council began the process of filing a formal ethics complaint.

The complaint was expected to be based on McKay’s admission in early March to Kennewick detectives that he had frequented several massage businesses in Kennewick and received sexual services at some, according to documents obtained by the Herald through the state Public Records Act.

McKay came forward after police raided one of the businesses as part of a Chelan County investigation. McKay told police he had information about as many as 20 similar businesses offering sexual services.

He claimed he was investigating them on his own, but when a detective asked what they would find if police reviewed video from the Clearwater business raided around the time he reached out, McKay admitted he had paid for a “happy ending.”

According to state law, patronizing a prostitute is a misdemeanor that carries a potential sentence of up to three months in jail.

Following Herald reports about the contents of the police interview, some members of the public questioned why McKay was not charged. Others pointed out that Bill McKay donated $1,875 to Eisinger’s election campaign.

Eisinger told the Herald on Monday that’s why he didn’t handle the case.

He explained that as soon as he was informed about McKay’s conversation with police, he told police Chief Chris Guerrero his office had a conflict of interest.

In the end, Kennewick police never asked his office to review the case. That isn’t unusual, the Kennewick city prosecutor normally handles misdemeanor crimes that occur in the city, Eisinger explained.

Eisinger told the Herald he was not aware of the status of the department’s interview with McKay until recently, and once he learned of the details, he wanted someone from outside the region to review it.

A city spokesperson told the Herald that there wasn’t a criminal investigation of McKay, that he only provided information.

Kennewick city officials have not been specific about who made that decision.

“It is important to note the focus of investigations has been on the victims of human trafficking and the bad actors involved, meaning the massage parlors and the individuals involved in the money laundering, etc.,” Kennewick Public Relations Manager Evelyn Lusignan told the Tri-City Herald in an email. “The focus has not been on the ‘customers’ of the massage parlor.”

“However, when this issue arose, a proper review was conducted, and a decision was made to continue to use resources towards the original intent,” Lusignan said. “To get corroborative evidence you would have needed witnesses willing to be interviewed and testify — the nature of human trafficking makes that really difficult, victims are here under duress in the first place, and they do not have to cooperate. Absent witnesses, other evidence is needed, such as a video of the crime.”

McKay and massage parlors

McKay’s admission allegedly came shortly after a March 1 Chelan County operation that enlisted Kennewick police to raid a suspected illicit massage parlor on Clearwater Avenue.

The then-mayor told detectives he had been conducting an “investigation” into the massage parlors for about two years, but hadn’t paid for sexual services.

When detectives pressed him, he allegedly admitted to getting a “happy ending,” according to documents and a video of McKay’s interview.

McKay told the detectives that he began going to the shops after hurting his back and being unable to get into the chiropractor. He said he went looking for a massage and was offered sexual services.

McKay said he had a list of 20 massage parlors selling sexual services and believed they were involved in sex trafficking. He said he only ever received sexual acts such as “happy endings” or “hand jobs” but did not have sex with the women.

Lusignan told the Herald in an email that at no time was McKay asked to investigate these businesses.

Over the course of the hour-long police interview, McKay went through the list of which businesses were allegedly offering which sexual services. The full list he provided to detectives included five he believed were selling sex, five offering “happy endings” and six that did not offer sexual services, according to handwritten notes from one of the detectives.

Lusignan said that McKay had not tried to report the alleged crimes in the nearly two years he claimed to have been investigating the businesses before the March 2023 interview.

“There are no reports Mr. McKay tried to report sex trafficking before this interview. He verbally provided information at least once previously that was not substantive or actionable in nature and was not documented,” Lusignan said in an email.

It is unclear whether any of the information McKay provided in March was used in other massage shop investigations, including some raids of other businesses in May 2023.

In late October, his interview with detectives was determined to no longer be of investigative value for the police and could be released publicly under state law.

Conflict of interest

Eisinger told the Herald that he had a conversation with the Kennewick Chief Guerrero shortly after McKay’s interview and was given some details about what the mayor did.

During that conversation, Eisinger told the chief that he had a conflict of interest in the case because McKay had been a campaign donor.

Eisinger said when he returned to his office, he spoke with two of his deputy prosecutors and decided that if the investigation was referred to them for possible charges, they would find a special prosecutor to handle it.

But no case was ever sent to his office, he said.

That didn’t stop McKay, however, from contacting him and bringing up the massage parlors.

McKay texted Eisinger on March 30, and Eisinger called him back for what turned out to be a 2-minute conversation.

“Mr. McKay indicated that he knew I talked to the chief. He referred to himself as the ‘instigator’ of the investigation,” Eisinger wrote in an email to Guerrero that was released to the Herald.

“I told Mr. McKay he needs to understand that I am wearing my prosecutor hat. He then told me there were 20 places that he knew of and some offered full sex,” said the email.

“He said or made some reference to the women being trafficked. He either said or implied that this was (a) real problem. He then said he wanted to make sure this was on the ‘front burner.’ I told him that this was on the front burner and that it would get appropriate attention.”

McKay contacted Eisinger again on April 26 on behalf of an acquaintance who wanted to know the status of an unrelated sexual abuse investigation. After a lengthy conversation about it, McKay brought up the massage parlors, according to an email from Eisinger to then-Deputy Prosecutor Laurel Holland.

“I stopped him before he made any substantive comments and told him that I will not discuss the matter with him,” Eisinger said in the email. “He apologized and said he wouldn’t bring it back up.”

On Monday, Eisinger told the Herald he received a text message last Friday from McKay, asking for the name of the “best defense attorney.” The prosecutor responded that in his position he can’t make referrals.

Federal prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office have not specifically said if they had a role. The documents released to the Herald show Kennewick police asked them for advice in March about how to proceed in investigating the massage parlors.

The Herald reached McKay by phone before and after the release of the documents last week, and he declined to comment both times.

Lusignan said the other members of the city council learned about McKay’s police interview the week of Oct. 30 when each met with the police chief, city manager and city attorney.

After those meetings were set up, but before they happened, a citizen filed a public records request for information regarding the investigation.

Then, one or more members of the city council began the process of filing an ethics complaint, but McKay resigned before any hearing or action was taken.

A planned closed-door executive session related to the issue was on the Nov. 7 regular meeting agenda, but was removed at the start of the meeting after McKay’s resignation was announced.

The city council adopted a new ethics policy in April that no longer required an outside attorney to review complaints brought by council members against other members.

Lusignan told the Herald that McKay was not asked to recuse himself from voting on the matter or from a June vote that tightened ordinances on the operation of massage businesses in the city limits.

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