Citizen Solutions held liable for role in kickback scheme
OLYMPIA — A Thurston County Superior Court judge late yesterday ordered for-profit signature gathering firm Citizen Solutions and its principal, William Agazarm, to collectively pay more than $1 million for their role in deceiving Washingtonians by funneling campaign donations to Tim Eyman.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a campaign finance lawsuit against all three defendants in 2017, accusing Citizen Solutions and Agazarm of unlawfully concealing a $308,185 payment to Eyman.
In his order, Judge James Dixon found that Agazarm “personally approved Citizen Solutions’ kickback payment” to Eyman, knowing that Eyman “planned to and, in fact, did use the funds for his own personal expenses and to support the signature gathering effort for a different Eyman-supported initiative, Initiative I-517.”
“The Court finds that the Citizen Solutions Defendants not only knew the extent of Defendant Eyman’s scheme, but actively assisted with his violations, helping him mislead contributors into believing their contributions would go to support ballot initiatives, when in fact, they were benefiting Defendant Eyman personally. Crucially, the Citizen Solutions Defendants assisted Defendant Eyman in laundering payments purportedly for signature gathering, which were made after the signature gathering was completed and accepted by the Citizen Solutions Defendants solely to conceal that they were being funneled to Defendant Eyman.”
The court concludes the violations “are particularly egregious, warranting a substantial penalty.”
“This judgment reflects the serious and intentional violations of Washington’s campaign finance laws committed by Mr. Agazarm and Citizen Solutions,” Ferguson said. “Mr. Agazarm and Citizen Solutions knowingly participated in a scheme to hide how contributions to Tim Eyman’s campaigns were really being used.”
Judge Dixon issued a default judgment Sept. 30 ordering:
- Agazarm to pay $150,000 in civil penalties;
- Citizen Solutions, LLC to pay $150,000 in civil penalties;
- Agazarm and Citizen Solutions jointly to pay $117,500 in unpaid contempt sanctions; and
- Agazarm and Citzen Solutions to pay $622,255.67 in costs and fees.
Altogether, the defendants owe a total of $1,039,755 67.
Investigation revealed long history of violations
The Attorney General’s investigation revealed that one of Citizen Solutions’ owners has a history of laundering campaign contributions to conceal from the public how those donations were being spent, going back more than a decade.
For example: In a 2010 letter, Eyman asked for a kickback to compensate him for providing the business of his own political committee, Voters Want More Choices. Eyman also proposed a scheme to increase the kickback payment by padding the price his committee would pay Citizen Solutions per signature for Initiative 1053.
Eyman wrote that the committee “agreed to have Citizen Solutions collect signatures for $2.00 each. Im [sic] doing my best to raise money from the business community at a rate of $2.50 per signature. My goal is to have Voters Want More Choices pay Citizen Solutions the agreed upon $2 per sig plus $150,000 so that you have an extra $150,000 to provide to me.”
Eyman forwarded an email from Citizen Solutions to donors that had originally quoted a price of $2 per signature for I-1053; however, Eyman’s forwarded version altered the price to $2.50.
Eyman created “gift schemes” for Citizens Solutions and its owners to funnel money to him. Records show numerous $13,000 payments to Eyman and members of his family from the owners of Citizen Solutions — the amount that Eyman’s accountant told him was the maximum “gift” he could receive without it being reported to the IRS.
Eyman had Citizen Solutions’ owners divide his kickbacks among his wife, Karen, and their minor children, so none of the checks would be more than $13,000. According to Karen Eyman’s deposition, she and the children were unaware of the payments, even though the checks were made out to them.
Eyman wrote to one of the owners: “You generously gave me $9900 on September 22nd (and a nice bottle of champagne!!) so that leaves $35,100 for the rest of 2012 and still $39,000 for 2013. … I ask that you please schedule a few more lunches from now until December 31st so you can ‘max gift’ by the end of the year. You’re making great progress on this and I continue to be extremely grateful for your continued help on it.”
In a June 5, 2012 email to Citizen Solutions principals, Eyman proposed various schemes to increase his compensation, writing: “For the past 10 years, Citizen Solutions has hitched itself to the ‘Eyman bandwagon’ and it’s worked really well -- but I think it’ll be even better if I jump on the ‘Citizen Solutions bandwagon’ especially as we approach a post-517 initiative environment. I bring something to the table (non-stop initiative campaigns by me and diligent efforts to refer other clients to you) and you two bring something to the table (a successful petitioning operation). We’d be a great team.”
One proposal was an ongoing business partnership in which Eyman would share 1/3 of Defendant Citizen Solutions’ revenue. Alternatively, in his June 5, 2012 email, Eyman proposed that the company pay him $270,000 as a sales commission.
He wrote, “When it comes to the extra $270k, I’m working hard to get it for myself by having it paid to Citizen Solutions.”
Three weeks later, as part of the justification to be provided to Voters Want More Choices to increase their payments, Citizen Solutions would state that exactly that amount was “outstanding on the contract” for Initiative 1185 signatures.
Even after all I-1185 signatures had been paid for on July 3, 2012, Citizen Solutions continued to accept payments, including: $27,150 from the Washington Beer and Wine Distributors Association, $45,000 from the Association of Washington Business Political Action Committee, and $170,825 from Eyman’s committee, Voters Want More Choices.
Citizen Solutions forwarded 100 percent of the funds donated for I-1185 signature gathering after July 3, 2012 to Eyman.
In September of 2015, the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) referred the case to the Attorney General’s Office for enforcement. The chair of the PDC Commission described the case as “one of the most egregious the PDC has seen.”
In March of 2017, Ferguson filed the campaign finance lawsuit against Eyman, Agazarm and Citizen Solutions, alleging, on Eyman’s part, improper personal use of more than $300,000 in contributions made to political committees, concealment of more than $490,000 in contributions and misleading reporting. Additional concealed contributions were discovered during the state’s investigation since then. The lawsuit also accused Citizen Solutions of participating in a scheme to conceal campaign money the company funneled to Eyman.
On May 17, 2019, Judge Dixon issued a default order against Citizen Solutions, LLCand Agazarm, finding them liable for their role in the scheme. Prior to that, they had been in contempt of court for 456 days, accruing a total of $177,250 in sanctions for failing to comply with court-ordered discovery requirements.
Assistant Attorneys General Eric Newman, Todd Sipe and Paul Crisalli are handling the case.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.firstname.lastname@example.org