Wes Cooley, still fighting

Wes Cooley, still fighting

Aformer 2nd District congressman from Oregon, who fought unsuccessfully to keep his seat in the mid-1990s after being caught lying about his military record, is fighting to stay out of prison 16 years later.

Wester "Wes" Shadric Cooley, 78, a Republican from Powell Butte who served one term after being elected in 1994, was indicted by a California grand jury in January 2009 on six counts of money laundering. He also faces one count of filing a false income tax return in 2002 to conceal more than $1.1 million in what Uncle Sam considers illicit income.

The colorful, albeit short-lived politician who held elected office for four years faces up to 38 years in federal prison if convicted.

His attorney maintains that Cooley, who suffered a stroke early in 2004 and has had subsequent heart problems, is incompetent to stand trial because of dementia related to his failing health, according to papers filed Dec. 3 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

However, U.S. Assistant Attorney Stephen Cazares in LA. challenges that incompetency claim, noting that after four months of evaluation and treatment in the Federal Medical Center in Bunter, N.C., the defendant was found to be competent.

Moreover, the report found evidence of malingering by Cooley, Cazares said in court papers.

A court-ordered competency hearing for Cooley was scheduled for Dec. 8 in U.S. District Court in LA. but was continued to Jan. 11. If the defendant is found competent to stand trial, it will begin Feb. 8 in the Los Angeles court.

Cooley, who lives in Palm Springs, could not be reached for comment for this story.

Prosecutors say Cooley was involved in an alleged investment scheme associated with the sale of shares of, a startup Internet auction firm, and several related shell companies.

The indictment alleges that investors were lured by false statements, including a claim that BidBay was about to be acquired by eBay, the huge Internet auction company.

More than $10 million was bilked from investors in the Bidbay sale of shares based on false statements, according to prosecutors.

The criminal charges are on top of a 2005 civil case in St. Louis, Mo., in which a U.S. District court jury ordered Cooley and a business associate to pay more than $2.1 million to 11 people it said were victims of the scheme. During that case, Cooley said a series of strokes the year before left him unable to remember anything for the previous 15 years.

The former congressman was one of the more unique politicians in Oregon's history, observed political scientist Jim Moore, a Pacific University professor who heads the university's Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation.

"And he certainly contributed to the public frustration with politicians and the feeling they are all lying to us," Moore said, noting there is invariably a local candidate in each election charged with embellishing his or her record.

"But very few make things up out of whole cloth," he added, noting Cooley took the art of exaggeration to a new level. "He was a colorful, unique politician, mainly because of his personality. He always pushed things to the limit."

Aside from that idiosyncrasy, he was emblematic of the Republican revolution in the mid-'90s, said Moore, who was reared in Medford and keeps an eye on politics statewide.

"He was going to change the way government works, cut the size of government," Moore added. "Like several others in that revolutionary class, he didn't last long. Governing was not what he was good at.

"He was very colorful but he had a low impact on Oregon politics."

Cooley entered Oregon politics when he was elected as a state senator in 1992. Two years later, while midway through that term, he was elected to Congress to represent Oregon's 2nd District. In addition to owning a small ranch in the Powell Butte area, he also owned a vitamin supplements company.

In the 104th Congress, he quickly became known for his strong advocacy for private property rights as well as American military superiority.

But in spring 1996, when he was running for re-election to Congress, the Mail Tribune questioned his statement in the 1994 Voters Pamphlet that he had served in the Army Special Forces in Korea. Lying in an official voters guide is a felony in Oregon.

Army records revealed that Cooley did not finish training at Fort Bragg, N.C., until nearly after the war had ended and that he had never left the states, the Mail Tribune reported.

Cooley continued to insist he had served in the Korean War on a secret mission and named a sergeant he had served with, but said the sergeant was deceased. Unfortunately for Cooley, The Oregonian tracked down the sergeant ... who was very much alive in Arizona. The sergeant called Cooley a liar.

Under increased pressure from the GOP, Cooley withdrew from the race. In December 1996, Cooley was indicted for lying about his military service in the 1994 Voters Pamphlet.

Although he claimed the documents proving his assertions were destroyed in a fire, Cooley later accepted a plea agreement in Marion County Circuit Court, where he was convicted of lying in an official document. He was sentenced to two years' probation, required to perform 100 hours of community service and fined $5,000.

Questions also were raised about claims that he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa in college and that he had a law degree. He was neither a member of the fraternity nor a law school graduate.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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