Michael Withey

Image: Hoover’s doubts about Forsythe in his own handwriting in long-secret FBI Documents

On the 40th anniversary of the assassinations of two of Seattle’s most beloved labor leaders a Freedom of Information lawsuit has revealed a gross miscarriage of justice by the Seattle FBI Office. What we know now we didn’t know then:  the Seattle FBI deliberately failed to investigate and indict a key mystery witness who newly released FBI documents prove was found not credible by none other than former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

 June 1, 1981: With four .45 caliber bullets in his chest, anti-Marcos union activist Silme Domingo climbed out of his chair, struggled out of the Local 37 Alaska Cannery Workers union hall, and collapsed on the sidewalk.  Hollering for help Silme was able, miraculously, to tell the first responders who had shot him: “Jimmy Ramil and Ben Guloy.”

Based on Silme’s dying declaration both men were convicted of first-degree aggravated murder in August-September 1981.  But not before a “mystery” witness, Levane Malvison Forsythe, came forward at the eleventh hour of the defense case to state he was at the scene, saw the injured man and claimed Silme said he did not know who shot him. Pandemonium ruled the courtroom, and friends and supporters reacted with shock and alarm at this brazen attempt to throw the case.  At the meetings following the trial, the Committee for Justice for Domingo and Viernes (CJDV) asked. WHO WAS LEVANE MALVISON FORSYTHE?   1. Martian  2. Publicity Seeker 3.Professional Witness?   

Forty years later, as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit against the FBI, the families finally have some answers and they ain’t pretty.  

Silme’s dying declaration resulted in four murder convictions as well ground-breaking $23.8  million federal court verdicts 9 years later against the former dictator of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos for his conspiracy to operate against his opposition in the US   But this murder conspiracy did not unravel by itself. It took Silme’s courage and the steadfast dedication of the Domingo and Viernes families, headed by Silme’s widow Terri Mast, his sister Cindy Domingo and the CJDV to bring about justice. 

Forsythe claimed in a sworn deposition that he was an FBI informant, a claim the FBI stated it could neither confirm nor deny. But what is certain is that he was a well-worn con artist who the FBI had gathered extensive derogatory information on over the years.  He was a suspect in an unrelated “loan shark” investigation of the Seattle FBI Office but, strangely was exonerated on June 3, 1981, two days after he showed up at the murder scene.  Was that a coincidence?

What the FBI eventually produced  under the FOIA request  was dynamite evidence that the FBI’s failure to investigate and indict Forsythe for obstruction of justice was a major miscarriage of justice that involved none other than the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. 

 Hoover had earlier created the infamous sCointelpro (Counter-Intelligence Program) against the Black Panthers, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Left, including the organization (Union of Democratic Filipinos-KDP) that Silme and Gene led. The FBI opened a “Foreign Counter-Intelligence” file on the KDP in 1973 which was an active investigation in Seattle at the time of the murders and named Silme Domingo.

Forsythe came forward in 1970 in the middle of the power struggle over the empire of billionaire recluse Howard Hughes between Robert Maheu, a former CIA Agent (and the man the Kennedy Administration used to contact the Mafia to assassinate Fidel Castro) and the “Gay/Davis” faction.  He claimed he saw Hughes being removed late at night on Thanksgiving evening from his hotel in Las Vegas, pleading “Get me Bob Maheu or Pat Hyland.”  This statement supported the theory that Hughes had been abducted by the Gay/Davis faction of the Hughes empire. 

Hoover’s handwritten notes, disclosed for the first time in the still pending FOIA lawsuit, indicated that he distrusted both Maheu and his assistant, former head of the FBI in Las Vegas, Dean Elson. He directed FBI field agents to interview Forsythe and then interview two of Hughes’ aides.

Hoover was then asked if he wanted Hughes to be interviewed to determine if he had, in fact, been abducted. Hoover was told that “It appears Forsythe’s allegations may not be valid…” and  Hoover wrote: “No, Discontinue this inquiry.” There is no question from the context that Hoover simply did not believe Forsythe.  

At the same time, Forsythe was also called as a star witness  by Maheu in his lawsuit to regain control that the FBI carefully monitored and documented.   The Judge trying the case found Forsythe’s testimony not credible and denied Maheu the relief he sought.  

But these documents were hidden for decades.  Hoover’s direct involvement was not known until the FOIA lawsuit. 

To make matters stranger, Forsythe popped up again in 1978 claiming to have delivered the infamous Mormon Will to Melvin Dummar at the behest of Howard Hughes, a will determined to be fraudulent and yet another attempt to con the court on behalf of powerful interests. Again, his testimony was not believed. 

As a result of the FOIA lawsuit, the CJDV has been provided hundreds of pages of FBI documents on Forsythe in the Seattle office of the FBI who were investigating Forsythe as a suspect in a loan shark prosecution which resulted in three men’s convictions.  He was described as claiming he had been a “bag man” for Howard Hughes.  The Seattle FBI followed the Ramil and Guloy trial and tracked Forsythe’s testimony.    

Especially  damning is why the FBI office in Seattle, with an extensive dossier and evidence of criminality against Forsythe, utterly failed to haul him in for questioning about his perjured testimony at the trial of Ramil and Guloy.  

Kathy Loedler worked as an Acting Special Agent in Charge of FBI Offices in San Diego. She provided the Court with her opinion: 

“Since the ultimate goal is to obtain justice and seek the truth in these murders, the FBI had a solemn duty to act in good faith on behalf of the deceased victims Domingo and Viernes, and certainly not to protect Forsythe or the FBI.  …Such an endeavor had a decent chance of peeling back the layers of this murder conspiracy, which ultimately led to the regime of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.”

Local Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Eric Nalder, after reviewing the FBI files in this case, provided his opinion to the Court:

With full knowledge of the testimonial background and Hoover’s own doubts, the FBI failed to interrogate Forsythe and pursue obstruction of justice charges against him for his perjured testimony in the Ramil and Guloy trial. In my opinion, this constituted a miscarriage of justice…The FBI has a lot to answer for in its relationship with Forsythe.”

The FBI needs to be held accountable for not investigating why Forsythe perjured himself and prosecuting him. We have done our part by forcing the FBI to reveal what it had on Forsythe. The rest is up to history to judge.

By Mike Withey, Author, Summary Execution: the Seattle Assassinations of Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes (WildBlue Press 2018)