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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Stevens County man accused of posing as Mexican drug cartel to extort members of his own right-wing militia

James “Russell” Bolton (Courtesy of Facebook)

A nationwide arrest warrant has been issued for a onetime candidate for Stevens County sheriff who allegedly tried to extort members of his right-wing militia group through anonymous written threats backed by insinuations they came from a Mexican drug cartel.

James “Russell” Bolton, 51, also is accused of pushing an associate down a flight of stairs and trying to suffocate him with a plastic bag in Spokane, according to records filed last month in Stevens County Superior Court. In that incident, Bolton allegedly claimed his own wife had been kidnapped and was being held for a $100,000 ransom.

Bolton faces at least six charges of extortion and attempted theft. As of Wednesday, he had not been arrested and his whereabouts weren’t clear.

Bolton ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign to lead the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office in 2010, finishing last in a four-way primary with about 13 percent of the vote. He had the endorsement of Richard Mack, the former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona, who became a prominent right-wing activist in the 1990s when the National Rifle Association recruited him to sue the federal government over new gun restrictions.

“I pray for the day when a constitutional sheriff, and maybe it will be Russell Bolton … will know and understand that it will be his duty to arrest a couple of IRS agents,” Mack said, half-jokingly, during a July 30, 2010, speech in Chewelah.

In recent years, Bolton has led a militia group called the Stevens County Assembly. Archived versions of the group’s now-defunct website describe the group as “a volunteer, independent body of God-fearing American citizens” that sought to “protect family and property” and “secure real American communities during the present insurgent political and social changes.”

The site included pages titled “Counter Intelligence for Citizens” and “Socialism in America.” Another delved into far-right conspiracy theories surrounding the 1992 United Nations agreement known as Agenda 21.

Stevens County Superior Judge Jessica Reeves approved Bolton’s arrest warrant on April 22 after sheriff’s deputies spent nearly two months tracking down the source of several threatening letters.

One man reported finding a letter taped to a gate outside his girlfriend’s house near Deer Park on the morning of Feb. 26. That afternoon, a woman reported finding an identical letter stuck to a tree on her property down the road.

According to deputies’ reports, the letters demanded $10,000 in cash and threatened physical harm against the recipients’ families.

“The author of the letters claimed to be an organization from outside of the United States and insinuated that it was likely from a Mexican cartel,” a detective wrote.

That same evening, the couple near Deer Park reported they had been visited a second time by the apparent culprit. But this time, they were prepared.

The first letter had instructed the couple to place an envelope full of money in their mailbox. Instead, they set up a hidden camera and stuffed the envelope with a powder designed to dye the culprit’s skin purple. (The man told deputies he had bought it via the internet.)

The couple shared with deputies a video and a blurry photo that appeared to show a small white SUV stopping at the mailbox, but it wasn’t enough to identify a suspect, according to court records. The man also told deputies he had tried to pursue the SUV but couldn’t keep up.

Another couple from the small town of Rice, southwest of Colville, found a similar threatening letter on the morning of Feb. 28 in a manila envelope on their car’s windshield, according to court records.

The letter listed their names and address, and threatened that their property would be taken and the couple would be killed if they didn’t pay $250,000 within 15 days. It also threatened that the people responsible for the letter would visit the couple’s family in California if their demands weren’t met.

On March 12, the couple arrived at the sheriff’s office and met with Undersheriff Loren Erdman, but they would not say much in a public setting. Once in Erdman’s office, the man asked to close the door before finally pulling out the typed two-page letter.

The couple told the undersheriff they had placed a red ribbon on their flag pole to signal they got the message, as the letter instructed. They said they had reported the threat to Spokane authorities and even met with their stockbroker to see about making the payment. The man said he was carrying his gun at all times and inquired about getting a ballistic vest.

“I could see that they were scared,” Erdman wrote in his report.

At some point, the sheriff’s office realized the two men who received letters both knew Bolton through Stevens County Assembly meetings. A detective called Bolton on March 18 and interviewed him the next morning at his office in Chewelah.

Bolton told the detective he had received threatening phone calls but brushed them off, saying he was accustomed to such threats. The detective wrote that Bolton, who at one point served in the Marine Corps, talked a lot about himself.

“I was advised numerous times of Bolton’s military background, counter-insurgency training, him being a private investigator and working with various law enforcement agencies in North Carolina and Virginia, and the fact that he currently trains members of the Stevens County Assembly in hand-to-hand combat,” the detective wrote.

Asked about the threatening letters, Bolton blamed another man who had been angry with him since he wasn’t allowed to speak at a Stevens County Assembly meeting earlier in March.

Bolton called the detective back on March 28, claiming he had received numerous threatening emails. When the detective asked to see the emails, Bolton said his computer had been hacked and was unusable. He also said that a red pickup truck had followed him home from Chewelah one day. He never forwarded the alleged emails to the sheriff’s office as the detective requested.

The detective was later notified that Bolton had allegedly tried to kill another Stevens County Assembly member in a home in north Spokane.

On April 3, Bolton allegedly pushed the man down a flight of stairs, causing his head to hit the concrete floor and leaving a large cut, according to court records. As the man tried to get up, Bolton allegedly tried to pull a plastic bag over his head.

Bolton eventually stopped, but then claimed that someone had kidnapped his wife and was demanding a ransom of $100,000, according to court records.

The assault was reported to Spokane police, but the alleged victim told the Stevens County detective he had believed Bolton’s kidnapping story. He said he had even sold his stock portfolio and had a $100,000 check waiting to be picked up at his broker’s office.

Bolton had also written two paranoid-sounding emails to the alleged assault victim.

“Contact me when the transaction is ready,” he wrote, according to court records. “Be discreet. They are calling me every day and following me everywhere.”

The detective learned that Bolton owns a white 2013 Ford Edge, though he couldn’t determine whether that’s the vehicle the Deer Park couple caught on video.

On April 17, the detective purchased a water bottle so he could squirt water inside the vehicle and possibly activate some of the purple theft-detection powder. Court records available Wednesday didn’t indicate whether that search had happened yet.