Oregon state Sen. Brian Boquist will charge you big bucks to learn how to dodge a rocket propelled grenade.
But it’s what his former business partners say he’s doing with the cash that’s causing the Republican some problems.The issue revolves around a private military training facility that he and his wife help operate in Cheyenne, Wyo., and which is complete with live mortar and car bomb training as well as actors dressed up like radical insurgents.
Two of their longtime partners in the business recently accused the Boquists in federal court of mismanaging the facility and redirecting its profits to the couple’s favorite Republican candidates and causes back in Oregon.
It’s unclear whether the accusations by Danny and Lorrie O’Brien are credible. They were voted out of the company in December and the lawsuit they filed on Jan. 31 in the District of Oregon said their evidence came from a former bookkeeper whom they did not name.
Still, the claims made plenty of headlines last week after the Willamette Week newspaper in Portland first discovered the lawsuit.
And things just got stranger from there.
The day the newspaper wrote about the case, the Boquists’ ex-partners withdrew the suit and haven’t been reachable for comment since. Multiple Oregon news outlets have tried unsuccessfully to reach them at their home in Washington State. They also did not return a call seeking comment for this story.
On Wednesday, the senator’s wife, Peggy Boquist, told TPM that what’s happened in recent weeks is just the beginning. She spoke in somewhat vague terms, saying she really wasn’t allowed to talk about it. But she made it clear the lawsuit wasn’t the end of the conflict.
“There’s a lot more to the story. But we can’t speak about it because it’s still between lawyers,” she said when reached by phone at her husband’s Capitol office in Salem, Ore. “There’s no settlement. There will probably be some other court action. I can’t really tell you.”
The two couples have been in business together since the 1990s with a company called International Charter Incorporated of Oregon, better known as ICI of Oregon. The business was essentially a private paramilitary force for hire in dangerous places throughout the world. “Anytime, anywhere” was its slogan.
In a 2003 interview with NPR’s All Things Considered for a story titled “Mercenaries,” Brian Boquist said the company ran transportation services in conflict zones, but he also said his employees carried guns.
“If you carry them for self-defense, you’ll never have to use them 99.9 percent of the time,” Boquist said, according to transcripts of the interview. “But if you’re walking around a war zone and you’re not armed, you’re a disaster in a foreign policy crisis waiting to happen.”
The company’s website, which still lists Brian Boquist as the executive vice president and Danny O’Brien as senior vice president, said ICI of Oregon worked on projects in places like Haiti, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Liberia. It describes most of the missions as “peacekeeping support.”
In another interview published in 2003, the future Oregon senator told a reporter for the Durham, N.C. Independent about what he called “hell on earth” during a mission in Liberia in 1996, when ICI of Oregon had been contracted by another company to help in an operation there.
Rebels were pouring into the capital of Monrovia and corpses were everywhere, he told the paper. He and his men had to find a way to the U.S. embassy. When they got there, they realized their superiors from the other company had abandoned them.
“They had left the day before,” Boquist told the newspaper. “Just disappeared.”
It was those kinds of experiences that led Boquist and O’Brien to open ICI Wyoming, the company now at the center of the dispute, with their wives and another partner named Marcus Hines in 2007. By then, Boquist had already been a state legislator for a few years after first being elected in 2004.
The company trains groups — including a US Marine Corps force from Camp Lejeune, N.C., according to the lawsuit — with live fire exercises and simulated battlefield scenarios.
Videos on the company’s website show men, dressed in full costume to look like radical insurgents, firing rocket propelled grenades and setting off truck bombs. The company uses a large plot of Wyoming land for its exercises.
The O’Briens’ lawsuit said a rift about the direction of the company formed between the two couples in early 2011.
The Boquists began to keep the company’s finances hidden from the O’Briens, the lawsuit alleges, and then demanded that the O’Briens accept a buyout offer. After the O’Briens refused, the Boquists and Hines voted the O’Briens off the board of directors.
That’s when the O’Briens said they found out the Boquists had been diverting money to Republican candidates and causes in Oregon ever since the 2007 founding of the company. Their lawsuit said a bookkeeper who resigned from ICI Wyoming was the one who blew the whistle.
In her conversation with TPM, Peggy Boquist said the claims in the lawsuit were “outrageous.” The money she and her husband donated to political causes was proper. And there was lots of it, she said.
“I’m considered a big Republican donor here in Oregon,” she said. “But that corporate money, personal money, there’s a huge distinction there. And oh, by the way, I’m probably not allowed to talk about that either, but the public finance reports are public information.”
Indeed, Willamette Week searched the Oregon campaign finance database and tallied the donations and loans made by the Boquists and their companies, including an ammunition and explosives manufacturing firm called the Powder River Cartridge Company, since 2008. They added up to more than $90,000.
In an email to TPM, Brian Boquist declined to talk about the specifics of the lawsuit. He said he hadn’t read it but had been briefed on it. As for the donations, he said, they were all a matter of public record. “There are no secrets,” he wrote.
Peggy Boquist hinted that, although she and her husband couldn’t say much now, there will likely be more from them in the near future.
“The story is there’s no story yet,” she said. “But there might be a story on March 15. That’s the day we file corporate taxes.”