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Shawn Vestal: Spokane’s small-time grifter raises hackles like few others

Next time, the man with the constant tales of woe really might need 20 bucks – to help pay a court fine.

Brandon C. Pier found himself in jail over the weekend, charged with stealing a $13 haircut. Pier, whose nonstop small-time scamming has reached seemingly every corner of the community, apparently messed with the wrong barber.

He was arrested Friday night and booked into the Spokane County Jail on a warrant alleging theft of services. The misdemeanor charge arises from his walkout on a haircut at Leland’s on Wall in October, and police may be able to add other haircut walkouts to the charges. Still, his punishment if he’s found guilty will likely match the size of his crime: small. Third-degree theft is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $500 – but the “up tos” are important there, because they are often much less.

Pier has been hitting people up for money all over town for years – with plausible tales that sucked in a surprising number of us. I “lent” him $20 for gas one night two years ago, after he showed up on my doorstep claiming to be a neighbor in need. I felt only marginally less foolish about it after hearing from scores of people all over town who’d done the same thing.

A lot of people want to string him up. Some see him with as much bemusement and pity as alarm, and I tend to lean in this direction. Something about his incredible range and persistence is almost impressive; but underneath it, something behind that behavior must be as sad as it is scary. Mostly what Pier does is sell people a line of bull and ask for money; he shows up in parking lots and gas stations or goes door to door, talking about his lost wallet, his need for gas, his promise to repay. Those of us who have given it to him, so far as I can tell, have usually acted freely and gullibly. We could have said no.

This isn’t always the case. He’s gotten pinched for panhandling aggressively, and there are stories of him acting in ways that scare people downtown. What’s landed him in Municipal Court this time was his ill-fated decision to try and steal a haircut from Claudia Kirkebo, who went to the police, talked about the case around town, wouldn’t let it go.

Pier had come into her shop on Oct. 14, telling her he was a medical student who worked at Group Health. When the haircut was over, he told her he had to run to his car for money. He didn’t return.

Something about the guy gets people worked up. Criminals of many magnitudes greater than Pier – violent thugs, big-time scammers – go mostly unremarked upon, while the community roars about him. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve written about two types of con men: Pier, who has taken so many for so little, and Greg Jeffreys, a developer who took investors and banks for millions of dollars. Just one of those cases produced an outpouring of reader responses, and it wasn’t the big-money crook.

That is as much a testament to Pier’s relentlessness as anything. He has touched so many lives – in his own grifty way – that it is probably impossible to ever really get a grasp of how many people he’s taken. Tons of people have written or called or commented online, detailing their experiences with him. He hit me up for money at a gas station, they say. He told me he lost his wallet in a parking lot, they say. He pretended to be my neighbor, they say.

The same thing happened to police. Spokane police Capt. Judi Carl, who oversees the downtown precinct, said that after a column about Pier appeared Nov. 15, she received a flood of responses. I couldn’t reach her Tuesday, but she left me a message confirming his arrest and noting this: “It was very interesting after your story ran how many contacts we got in reference to his behavior, not just in the downtown area, but throughout the entire city of Spokane. He’s a very active young man.”

There is a natural endpoint to such continual activity; Spokane simply isn’t that big of a town. The number of people Pier has approached two or three times is significant. He has crossed his own path enough that the returns must begin to diminish.

This time, police received a tip from someone who recognized Pier on a downtown street, and they quickly picked him up. Pier’s case is set for a pretrial conference in January. He was released early this week without bond, on his own recognizance – his promise to return.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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