Stonewashed: At the Laundromat

Sentencing time for a Seattle attorney whose literal approach to money-laundering got national laughs.

Unlike the wired-up case that led to the convictions of three Seattle attorneys for money-laundering offenses last year, there's no record of exactly what was said between drug dealer Carlos Ford and his Bellevue attorney, Stephen Plowman, who will be sentenced this month in a separate money-laundering case.

Still, you can sort of imagine what might have been a memorable chat between them:

Ford: I got to wash some of this cash, man, there's so much of it.

Plowman: What do you have in mind?

Ford: Well, I was thinking maybe a Laundromat.

Plowman: No, see, you don't literally wash the money.

Ford: Uh, you can if you buy the Laundromat.

So in 2005, they indeed went out and bought a Laundromat, the venerable Queen Anne Maytag Center on West Boston Street atop Queen Anne Hill. According to Plowman's October 2006 plea agreement, the lawyer paid for the washing machine business with a $60,000 check and $100,000 in cash—cash that Plowman had earlier received from Ford at the cocaine dealer's West Seattle home and stored in a safe at his Bellevue law office.

"The purchase and sale agreement were drafted by Mr. Plowman to reflect a total sales price of approximately $60,000," prosecutors said in court papers, "whereas the true sales price was approximately $160,000." That allowed Plowman to transfer Ford's cash without a record of either receiving or handing it off, in violation of federal currency and money-laundering laws.

Informants ultimately helped break the case, authorities say. Ford, 32, was convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine to local street gangs and got 10 years in prison. He forfeited five homes he owned, and the government also pocketed $425,000—some of it proceeds from the sale of the confiscated laundry center.

Plowman, 51, is set to be sentenced Jan. 26, and is likely to get a term between 18 and 24 months, prosecutors say.

Comparing the case to that of the three other laundering attorneys, federal prosecutor Ron Friedman says, "Same thing, different drug dealer." But with a decidedly different spin.

Rick Anderson

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