CATHLAMET — A judge has made it easier for Sam Fredrick Valdez, the Altoona man who allegedly plotted with a “hit man” to murder his ex-wife and two local judges, to get out of jail.
For now, Valdez, 63, is still locked up in the Wahkiakum County Jail. However, at a pre-trial hearing earlier this month, visiting Cowlitz County Judge Steven Warning reduced Valdez’s bail from $10 million to $750,000, and set conditions for his release. The new, significantly lower amount makes it more likely that Valdez will be able to make bail while awaiting his January trial, Wahkiakum County Prosecutor Dan Bigelow said on Sept. 23.
Valdez is charged with conspiracy to commit murder and drug dealing and drug manufacturing. Police arrested him in early July, after a confidential informant recorded conversations in which he allegedly arranged to have a hit man kill his ex-wife, Pacific County Superior Court Judge Michael Sullivan and Pacific County judge pro-tem William Faubion, among others. He also allegedly implicated himself in a suspected arson that destroyed his neighbors’ home. According to court documents, Valdez allegedly made a down payment on the first of the “hits” by giving the informant a jar of hash oil.
The recordings led police to raid Valdez’s Pillar Rock Road home, where they found a stockpile of weapons and ammunition, and marijuana and marijuana by-products with an estimated street value of $140,000.
Valdez’s original $10 million bail was the highest ever set in Wahkiakum County, and effectively ensured that he would not be able to come up with enough money to get out of jail. But during a pre-trial hearing earlier this month, Valdez’s former attorney, Bruce Finlay, argued that the exceptionally high bail amount was based on unfounded speculation about how Valdez might behave if released. Finlay also argued that his client couldn’t adequately prepare for trial while he was in jail. Another defense attorney, Wayne Fricke of the Tacoma-based firm, Hester Law Group, has since replaced Finlay as Valdez’s attorney.
Bigelow said that in general, bail bond agents ask their clients to pay about 10 percent of the total bail amount up front, though depending on the circumstances, they may ask for larger payments, or ask to hold car or property titles as collateral. That means that Valdez would need to come up with at least $75,000 in cash to get out of jail.
Valdez might have had access to that kind of cash prior to his contentious September 2014 divorce, but it’s hard to say whether he does now. Court documents from the divorce valued the couple’s assets at $640,981. That amount included several properties in Washington and Oregon, 25 hectares of land in Panama, a plane, a sailboat, a collection of gold nuggets, various investment and retirement accounts and a business, SS Aviation, LLC.
Valdez’s share of the estate was worth $432,136, but he is probably worth less now — the terms of the divorce required the couple to sell off the Panama property, and ordered Valdez to pay an equalizing payment of $111,645 to his ex-wife. Valdez is no longer listed in the incorporation documents for the business.
If Valdez does make bail, he is required to wear an electronic tracking device, and live with his mother in Clark County. He is forbidden to leave Clark, Mason and Cowlitz counties, except to visit with his attorneys and to attend court dates. He is also forbidden to have any contact with witnesses, cannot possess weapons of any kind, and is required to surrender his passport and pilot’s license and “stay away from his boat.”
Even those strict requirements may seem like cold comfort to people whom Valdez has allegedly threatened, however. On Sept. 23, a Wahkiakum County courthouse employee said that “many” people have expressed fear that their safety will be compromised if Valdez is released.
Fricke, Valdez’s attorney did not respond to a Sept. 28 email request for comment.