Jun. 20--A security guard working at the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Spokane was fired after allegedly using remote-controlled rooftop security cameras to peer inside an occupied high-end condominium unit at Main and Lincoln, authorities confirmed.
The condo spying case came to the attention of the Justice Department a little more than a week ago, and a criminal investigation was immediately ordered by the U.S. attorney's office.
"Allegations have been made, and it is under investigation. That's all I can say," First Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Rice said Tuesday afternoon when asked about reports of the condo spying, which surfaced two days after a weekend open house celebrating "Live It UP" downtown condo living.
Ron Wells, the architect and builder of the West 809 condominiums, said he was contacted June 12 and told of the alleged spying.
"I do know that authorities are investigating it," Wells said when reached for comment. "Obviously, it's very unfortunate that it happened."
Added Wells, "The reality is that this could happen anywhere -- even in suburbia, because there are cameras everywhere today."
The West 809 project is owned by CPC Development, a subsidiary of Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.
Wells declined to identify or otherwise describe the private owners of the condominium unit. "I know that they're speaking with the investigators. I think they deserve privacy, so that's all I'm going to say about it."
A special agent with the Federal Protective Service is conducting the investigation that could lead to voyeurism charges, Rice said.
If charges are pursued at the completion of the investigation, the case likely would be referred to Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney Steve Tucker. Voyeurism is a felony under Washington state law, but only a misdemeanor if federal charges are brought.
The fired guard, whose identity couldn't be confirmed, worked for a private company, Secure Solutions LLC.
Officials with the private company couldn't be reached Tuesday afternoon. The only telephone number listed on the company's Web site rang through to a fax machine.
The Florida-based company has a contract with the U.S. General Services Administration to provide outside perimeter security in the downtown city block at Riverside and Monroe that contains the nine-story U.S. Courthouse and the adjoining four-story U.S. post office, which houses U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
In addition to walking a beat around the federal complex and using security gates to restrict vehicle access, guards use remote-controlled cameras mounted on extension booms on the fourth-floor rooftop of the post office.
The direction the cameras are pointed is hidden by opaque spheres.
The cameras can be controlled and monitored by a battery of monitors located in an office in the basement of the U.S. Courthouse, staffed 24 hours a day by security guards.
It is believed the equipment is digital, which likely would leave a computer record of camera activity.
"They've got some pretty high-tech cameras, the best money could buy when they were installed," said one senior official who's familiar with the surveillance gear.
"If conditions were right, you'd be able to count the ice cubes in a tumbler," the official said, asking not to be identified.
Copyright (c) 2007, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.