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Malheur defendant's partner blames tow on FBI


Deborah Rose Jordan was still wearing her pajamas when the knock came on her hotel room door.

She opened it on the morning of Feb. 9 to find two Gresham police officers there to tow the vehicle she’d been driving — a green GMC Yukon SUV rented by her significant other, Pete Santilli.

Santilli is the vocal Cincinnati-based Internet and radio “shock jock” who has been jailed in connection with his role in the Malheur occupation. The towing of his rented truck provides a glimpse into the methods employed by the FBI even as the agency last week cracked down on the leader of the Bundy family as well as the remaining occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and their supporters.

Last week brought the occupation to a dramatic end. FBI agents reportedly began infiltrating the refuge on Feb. 9 and negotiated a surrender of the final four occupiers the morning of Feb. 11. Meanwhile, Cliven Bundy, father of the occupation’s leaders, was arrested at Portland International Airport on suspicion of various crimes. Others were arrested as well. At least 25 people were indicted in connection with the occupation, according to the Associated Press.

It was when all this was about to unfold that the FBI started to move on Santilli’s truck, Jordan later realized. She says the Gresham police told her they found her vehicle as the result of a random sweep. But she had just talked to Enterprise Rent-a-Car the day before, and the firm assured her everything was paid up and fine, Jordan says. “We even talked about doing a monthly rate, not a weekly rate.”

Curious, Jordan called Enterprise after the police left. The manager she spoke with told her the FBI had called to urge the company to report the truck as stolen. The agent said two women had been driving the vehicle while Santilli was in jail, and they planned to soon drive to Burns, where the occupation was ongoing. The implication: that crimes could be committed using the rental car.

The agent was correct that Jordan had been planning to drive to Burns the next day to tend to some personal business. But to Jordan, the FBI’s foreknowledge of her plans shows she is under surveillance — which she calls harassment and federal payback.

Santilli’s show, which she produced, has been a “thorn in the side” of the FBI, Jordan says.

Jordan concedes she was not authorized to be driving the vehicle. But she says it had “absolutely” not been stolen, so she considers the stolen vehicle report to be a false one. The charges could be used to make trouble for Santilli, she adds.

Asked about the tow, FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele said the agency could not comment, saying it was related to an “ongoing investigation.”

Enterprise spokeswoman Laura Bryant says she can’t comment on specific rental accounts. But she says it is possible for vehicles to be reported as stolen even if they are all paid up — such as when the renter can’t be reached and the expected return date has expired.

Carrie Leonetti, a University of Oregon law professor and former criminal defense lawyer who practiced in federal court, says she’d have to check the statutes, but she agrees the FBI may have caused a false report to be filed. She said “the FBI’s conduct is troubling.”

Jordan says Enterprise told her the FBI also asked for the access code to its on-board navigational system, which in theory could allow the agency to eavesdrop on conversations inside the vehicle as well as track its location

In any event, Enterprise agreed to the FBI request and reported the vehicle as stolen to police at the Cincinnati-North Kentucky International Airport, where Santilli rented the truck.

Lt. Colonel Shawn Ward, who acts as assistant chief for the airport police, declined to release the police report regarding the incident, saying portions of the investigation are still very much active.

The Gresham police report of the tow, however, calls the investigation “inactive/suspended,” citing a “lack of tangible leads” to support the offense of receiving a stolen vehicle. The report by Officer Christopher Watkins does not say where the stolen vehicle tip came from, only that “I received information” that the truck was parked at the hotel. He did not return calls.

The FBI’s thinking behind the tow remains unclear. Was the agency worried Jordan would show up at the refuge standoff just as agents moved in on the remaining occupiers? Or was the move simply designed to allow a search of the vehicle to see if Santilli had left any weapons inside, which would have exposed him to new charges?

Santilli did not waste the opportunity to make hay from the incident in a phone call with Jordan during a show she posted on YouTube later on the day the vehicle was towed.

The tow is “because I brought up the truth about their activities,” Santilli said. “They’re actually out there trying to destroy the people that are trying to hold them accountable.”