Selling Wapato Jail: Is Multnomah County being duped?

“Lying is a thriving vocation.”

                                    Susanna Centlivre. Poet, actress, playwright

Garison Russo says he wants to buy the unoccupied Wapato Jail for $9 million.

County Chair Deborah Kafoury signed a counter offer on a letter of intent to purchase the Wapato Jail site in North Portland for $9 million on Sept. 21. Kafoury subsequently told the Tribune she signed a “non-binding” document that will begin the process to determine if the offer is viable. Kafoury wouldn’t identify the potential buyer.

KOIN 6 TV reported on the offer with a story titled “Mysterious buyer bids $9 million for Wapato”.

Mysterious indeed.

On Oct. 4, the Portland Tribune identified the bidder as Garison Russo, but didn’t offer much more.

To say the least, Russo has a spotty history and a vague background.

In February 2012, Eureka, CA-based Humboldt Bay Energy, of which Garison Russo was listed as founder and CEO, made an offer of more than $1.75 million to buy Blue Heron Paper Co. property in West Linn.

But Humboldt never followed through with the requirement that bidders deposit 10 percent of their intended bid on April 2, 2012. That left Clackamas County’s Water Environment Services as the only remaining bidder, so it acquired the land.

Today, for somebody who claims to have the resources to acquire the Wapato jail property, Russo’s a phantom.

There is no residential phone number in the white pages under the name Garison, Gari and Gary Russo in Eureka, CA. There is no LinkedIn or Facebook account under the name Garison, Gari or Gary Russo in Eureka, CA.

Russo’s primary visibility is a listing as founder and CEO of Humboldt Bay Energy LLC. Humboldt Bay Energy LLC was incorporated in Nevada on June 29, 2011 as a domestic limited-liability company with no capital and a Nevada Business ID of NV20111434134, an office address of 350 E St. Suite 207, Eureka, CA.

The incorporation papers said the company had three managers: Cory Cook, Randy Cook and Gary Russo. Its registration has since been “Revoked”. There’s no evidence that the company has since re-incorporated and registered with the California Secretary of State. Nor is there evidence the company has incorporated in any other state.

Humboldt Bay Energy has a website, but it just contains a logo and one line of text: Brave enough to think differently, Bold enough to believe we can change the world and Talented enough to make it happen”


Humboldt Bay Energy LLC once had a site advertising itself as a Solar Energy Equipment Supplier with an address of 1843 Quaker St, Eureka, CA 95501, but the site is “Permanently closed”, according to Google.

A “FindtheCompany” site has a page about Humboldt Bay Energy LLC at 1843 Quaker St, Eureka, California, noting: Humboldt Bay Energy LLC is a small, fairly new organization in the business consulting services industry located in Eureka, CA. It opened its doors in 2012 and now has an estimated $83,000 in yearly revenue and approximately 1 employee.”

That address is a modest home, not an office building. A reverse directory says the home is occupied by Cory Miles Cook, 39, and Sharie Lynne Cook, 37, two of the managers of Humboldt Bay Energy mentioned earlier.


In Sept. 2011, Garison Russo’s name popped up in connection with Humboldt Bay Energy’s proposal to the Portland Development Commission to redevelop the Centennial Mills site in Portland. Humboldt Bay Energy was identified as a renewable energy company focusing on solar energy, solar thermal energy systems, wind energy systems and energy storage systems.

“We are interested in moving our global corporate headquarters to the World Trade Center in downtown Portland with the intent of potentially using the Centennial Mills site as a mass-production assembly and distribution center, business center and showroom center,” Russo said, adding that he would be working with his group of multibillion-dollar private equity investors to help a viable project pencil out.

The PDC ended up rejecting Russo’s and two other proposals.

Humboldt Bay Energy also has an undated Corporate Prospectus document online that says its office is at 408 7th St., Suite C, Eureka, CA 95501. In this document, the company says it is a technology company founded by Russo in March 2011 that “…has a disruptive technology surrounding the production of a new wind turbine that will alter the business model paradigms currently seen within the wind energy marketplace.”

The prospectus says the company is “…currently seeking “expansion capital” of up to $5,000,000 as we move forward in product.”

Garison Russo, described in the prospectus as having a 20 year background in renewable energy (wind and solar), design/construction and real estate development and finance,” is listed as the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the company.

In defining Russo’s credentials, the prospectus says, “Gari studied architectural engineering at the BAC in Boston, MA and environmental planning and artificial intelligence at Harvard University’s professional extension program.”

BAC is otherwise known as Boston Architectural College. According to U.S. News & World Report’s college ranking, the school has an open admissions policy, meaning it has an acceptance rate of 100 percent. BAC’s registrar says Russo enrolled in some courses during 1979-80, but did not earn a degree.

Harvard University’s professional extension program also has no admission requirements to take a course.

When I was a newspaper reporter I came across a man who pitched himself as a successful entrepreneur and promised great returns to prospective investors. But something was fishy, including the fact he worked out of a shabby office on the 2nd floor of a shabby building. When I dug into his background I discovered he was a con man, through and through. But what was fascinating was that he seemed to truly believe in his own con. Perhaps that’s what we have here.

So now I guess now we’re just waiting for the truth.

Good luck, Deborah.

Playing fast and loose: Multnomah County and the Wapato Jail


The still empty Wapato Jail

Has Multnomah County been flouting the law in its management of the Wapato jail?

In 1996, Multnomah County voters approved a $79.7 million public-safety bond measure to deal with inmate crowding and predictions of rising crime.

Of the total, $43.9 million went toward construction of the $58.4 million Wapato Jail in North Portland. The 168,420 sq. ft. jail was completed in 2004…and has sat empty ever since.

Now some folks, including Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, want to turn the jail into a giant homeless shelter. But other county officials are adamant the jail is unsuitable for such a use.

A major reason is because county officials have chosen to do what was convenient, rather than what was right.

When property at the County Sheriff’s office or other county jails broke or got too old or just needed replacing, rather than buying something new, the county ransacked Wapato.

“What people think is out there is a fully functioning building with kitchens and everything. It has none of that. It’s been stripped bare,” County spokesman Dave Austin told KGW-TV. “What we did was, if the sheriff’s office in their other three jails had a need for something — you know a big stove, an oven, a dishwasher — if those broke, we didn’t spend taxpayer dollars and buy new stuff. We went and took the stuff from Wapato.”

It would cost taxpayers at least $5 million to $7 million to replace all the stuff that was spirited away and get Wapato ready for occupancy, Austin told KOIN 6 News.

That’s right. County employees have ripped off $5-$7 million of Wapato property for other uses.

The problem is the 1996 bond measure for Wapato didn’t say that after the county built the jail, it could loot it.

The Dec. 17, 1996 Official Statement, the offering document delivered to prospective investors for the $79.7 million of bonds that were sold in the public market, specified that the bond proceeds would be used for the following:

  • Increase jail beds to end unsupervised early release of prisoners
  • Secure treatment facilities for mandatory drug and alcohol treatment of offenders
  • Computer systems and high-tech equipment for tighter tracking of criminals
  • Restructured booking facilities to eliminate delays for police
  • Expansion of the juvenile justice complex
  • Child Abuse Center

 In 2003, the State authorized the County to shift from building the bed alcohol and drug / work release / mental health beds to building 300 jail beds, instead, raising the total number of Wapato jail beds to 525 and committing $58.4 million to the project.

Wapato Jail was finally completed in July 2004.

But one thing didn’t change with all the machinations. There was still no provision allowing for the Wapato jail to be raided of contents worth millions so they could be shifted to other facilities.

A California case supports the view that such slippery shenanigans are prohibited.

In 2008, voters in the San Diego, CA Unified School District authorized $2.1 billion in general obligation bonds for school projects listed in a 96-page pamphlet. Later that year, voters challenged the District’s use of general obligation bond proceeds for the acquisition and installation of field lighting for the football stadium at a local high school.

In 2013, the California Court of Appeal determined in Taxpayers for Accountable School Bond Spending v. San Diego Unified School Dist. that the school district’s failure to make explicit reference to the installation of stadium lighting within the site-specific section of a bond project list rendered that expenditure unlawful.

Maybe some folks involved in pillaging the Wapato Jail should be in it.