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Resource ID: #25644
Source:The Washington Post
On the day that tips arose about a U.S. soldier who may have strafed two Afghan villages, I left the office for a flight to Tacoma. Within 48 hours of the soldier's being identified as Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, I and two colleagues broke the news that the emerging hagiography of Bales drafted by family and attorneys had more to it than the story of a soldier who enlisted at the ripe of 27 driven by outrage over the 2001 terrorist attacks—and then broken down by an unrelenting cycle of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Our story started with pure spidey senses: Bales' s family and lawyer said he had left a stockbroker's career to enlist, as they explained his call to serve. Yet he had not finished college and clearly had financial troubles, I had determined. And he was active in brokerage in the late 1990s in Florida I learned by checking assorted online records—which raised my suspicions about the quick-money penny stock trading that was commonplace then. Based on those instincts, while also doing the running daily story from Bales' Army base in Washington state, I had checked some online brokerage records and enlisted Julie Tate to look at others and run through civil and criminal filings in Ohio (Bales's home state and then nationally). Within an hour, I had found one suspicious record and Julie had found others and we were off on a 30-hour run of investigative reporting and boots on the ground interviews that yielded the breaking news of Bales's more complicated—and less laudatory—past in the period just before he joined the Army. We located and I interviewed an elderly couple who had lost substantial savings in accounts managed by Bales and received copies of detailed financial records that corroborated their claims and showed Bales as the account manager. We also peeled back corporate records for a now-shuttered firm run by Bales and his brother with backing from a longtime friend and reached him to further flesh out the checkered professional history of the Staff Sgt. at the center of an explosive, fast-moving and intensely competitive story. The story demanded intense investigative reporting that netted notable results in far far less than 30 days of a breaking event.