When the early morning fire woke Ann Jacquot, her husband was gone. She stepped out of their bedroom and found burning debris on the floor of their sprawling house. She called out his name.
She dressed and hurried outside, meeting up with David Jacquot’s teenage son, who had heard her calls and “looked out the window and saw the orange glow and he knew there was a fire,” according to a Spirit Lake Fire Protection District report.
But there was no sign of David Jacquot (“ja-coh”).
Emergency responders found him a little later, about 2 am. Jacquot lay on his back in a field, about 200 feet away, semi-conscious, as the fire burned from the top of the three-story house, where Jacquot kept an office, and down into its basement.
Jacquot wasn’t wearing pajamas, but camouflage pants, a blue T-shirt and a gray flannel overshirt, the fire report states. Blood marked his left side — his hand, his head — and his forehead was bruised. He didn’t smell of soot. He didn’t have burn injuries or “anything indicating he had been in or near the fire,” the report says.
Jacquot couldn’t remember where he was when the March 2010 fire started and he entirely lost the ability to speak — apparently having suffered some sort of amnesia.
“He kind of listened and drew notes,” says Gary Johnston, a detective with the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office, who interviewed Jacquot a couple of days after the blaze. “He had some cuts and scrapes and bruises, superficial injuries that I saw.”
The emergency responders treating Jacquot wouldn’t have known that he was facing federal tax-fraud charges at the time. Or that they were standing near an underground bunker that held 40 firearms. Or that the federal government would later charge Jacquot using the Mann Act — the same controversial “morality” law used to prosecute Chuck Berry, Charlie Chaplin and champion boxer Jack Johnson.
All that would come after the fire.
Gordon Hodge lived with the Jacquot family for about a year, working as a handyman on the property. [Photo: Young Kwak]
With the house engulfed in flames and Jacquot still missing, Ann Jacquot called her cousin Gordon Hodge.
Hodge began driving up U.S. 95 from Hayden, Idaho, and toward the darkness of Vay, a dot on the map south of Priest River — more of a shelter from town life than a community itself.
The drive gave Hodge time to think. He had lived for about a year alongside the family — David, Ann, David’s teenage son and the couple’s adopted daughter from Kazakhstan.
“Didn’t have to pay no electric bill, no rent, it was beautiful,” says Hodge, 58, who earned his keep as the family’s handyman. “Me and fat dog, we had a place to live.”
But there was another side. “After being there about two weeks, their daughter says, ‘Me and my dad have secrets,’” Hodge says. “I had seen the way they interacted, and it wasn’t father-daughter.”
Hodge says Ann Jacquot repeatedly accused him of talking disrespectfully about Jacquot to the children, and one day she asked him to move.
“She kept telling me that I was too judgmental of Dave,” says Hodge, adding that he didn’t recall saying much of anything insulting. “She never did elaborate, because she’d be so enraged, I’d just get away from her.”
(Ann and David Jacquot did not respond to requests for interviews.)
Nevertheless, Ann called Hodge for help during the fire, and he pulled up about an hour after Jacquot was discovered. Hodge stuck around for a while, and Ann asked him to return again in daylight to tend to the family’s horses.
On his return trip, Hodge says, he and a neighbor found smeared blood on a Quonset hut on the property, a lone walkie-talkie and components of a 9-mm handgun scattered on the ground.
Hodge called 911 and told a dispatcher what they’d found. “The lady says, ‘Get someplace safe. We’ll have some people there right away.’ Within a few minutes, the sheriffs were there, and they did a search of the [guest] house, the barn and everything, with guns drawn.”
The 40 acres in Bonner County, Idaho, returned Jacquot to his roots in the Inland Northwest. As a boy he split time between North Idaho and Oregon, where he finished high school. He graduated — with honors — in business administration from Oregon State University in 1984. There also were stints away: a law degree from Georgetown University and time in the military. Later he earned a master’s in law from the University of Washington.
Eventually, as an attorney, Jacquot fashioned a reputation for protecting peoples’ money by using websites like wealthdefense.com and 4Taxhero.com. He worked primarily in Southern California before moving to Idaho in 2004 to be closer to family, according to Ann Jacquot’s mother, Marjorie Chick.
That same year, federal prosecutors sought a preliminary injunction against Xelan Inc., a company where Jacquot worked as general counsel. The government alleged that Xelan misappropriated money it funneled through charitable foundations. The company’s investments — $500 million in bank and investment accounts — were frozen long enough to prompt the company’s dissolution. But a federal judge later reversed the injunction. Federal agents, the judge ruled, couldn’t clearly say that Xelan had broken the law.
Prosecutors adopted a different tack: They began to charge Xelan executives individually. In 2008, Jacquot and the company’s president, Lewis Donald Guess, were indicted on two counts each of tax fraud. In 2010, a jury found Guess guilty of falsely preparing tax returns and manipulating “his employees and tax professionals to ‘slice and dice’ the preparation of his tax returns,” according to court documents. He “engaged in an illusory ‘shell game’ to support the false charitable deduction on his tax returns,” the records state.
The government alleges Jacquot lied about his income on his 2001 and 2002 tax returns. Jacquot, a former Army Judge Advocate General who served in the Gulf War, fired back. He subpoenaed former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel and U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.
“Among other things, I am claiming that I have been treated differently than Political Insiders such as you,” Jacquot wrote Rangel in a letter announcing the subpoena. (A judge excused those subpoenaed by Jacquot from attending a hearing.)
Jacquot still worked for Xelan in March 2003 when his wife flew to Kazakhstan to meet a 12-year-old girl the couple hoped to adopt.
The people of Ust-Kamenogorsk, a provincial capital of about 300,000 in eastern Kazakhstan, work in rough industries. They toil with metal: lead, zinc, titanium and magnesium. They process food. They build machines. And they inhabit a country that lives hard in other ways: In 2011, the World Health Organization singled out the people of Kazakhstan as having some of the riskiest drinking habits.
The 12-year-old girl’s family life had dissolved in liquor. When she was 6, her father left and her mother filled his absence with liquor, according to court testimony the girl would later give. Her mother lost her nursing job after showing up drunk. She began bringing home men, trading them sex for booze. One time a man tried to rip the girl’s clothes off because her mother was too drunk to have sex with him, records state. When she could, the girl stayed with friends or neighbors.
But neighbors grew upset by the girl’s desperation, and one day someone called the police. A woman came and took the girl away to the first of two orphanages. She was 9.
It wasn’t until a few years later — months before the girl’s 13th birthday — that Ann Jacquot wrote home describing their first meeting. The couple had found the girl on a website that shopped orphans to potential foster parents. Its website, Project Smile, no longer exists.
Ann Jacquot found Ust-Kamenogorsk dirty, full of “snirt,” a mix of snow and dirt, according to an email she wrote Jacquot and others. Ann described the girl as quiet and skinny.
“We’ll need to fatten her up,” she wrote.
Writing of her meals there — chicken, rice, salads and sweets — Ann said that she adopted a new motto: “Don’t think about what’s in it, just eat it.”
Hodge and Ann Jacquot’s mother, Chick, assume it was something Ann ate that made her violently ill when she returned with the adopted girl to Southern California, where the Jacquots were living. Shortly after she first arrived, with Ann ill and hospitalized, the scared girl crawled into bed with her new dad, Jacquot. That’s when — the girl would later allege in grand jury testimony — Jacquot began raping her.
A dual existence took shape, the girl said. When others were around, she called Jacquot “father.” In private, he abused her under the pretense that they were boyfriend and girlfriend, according to court documents. Together, they would watch pornography and when she turned 18, she says Jacquot took her to a sex shop, records state.
The girl shuffled around several area schools, and during these years, she began wanting friends her own age, her testimony states. She says she felt isolated on the family’s rural North Idaho property and started looking to make friends on the Internet. She told one person she met online about Jacquot.
“And he started explaining to me how I was manipulated, and it was wrong for my dad to do this, and that’s what actually made me not want to have this relationship anymore,” the girl says in court documents.
On March 1, 2010, the girl, then 19, told her school counselor of the alleged abuse, records state. On March 5, she told Jacquot that the counselor knew, and she also told Hodge of the abuse. On March 8, based on what the girl alleged, Hodge filed a police report with the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office.
On March 11, shortly after 1 am, the Jacquot home disappeared in flames. The Jacquots’ adopted daughter was not there at the time, having moved out to live on her own.
In the wake of the revelations, Ann Jacquot allegedly gave the girl $1,800 to leave town and stay in San Diego in order to dodge investigators, the girl told the grand jury. Ann drove her to Seattle and put her on a plane. The girl stayed in a hostel called Banana Bungalow, met some people there and stayed with them in a house for a time, according to court documents.
When the girl ran out of money, she rode a Greyhound bus all the way back to Idaho. That’s when law enforcement first interviewed her about the sexual abuse allegations.
Federal authorities were already aware of Jacquot because of his pending tax-fraud trial and soon got involved in the case. They charged him under the Mann Act. Originally known as the White Slave Traffic Act, the law was created in 1910 amid widespread fear that white women were being abducted from cities and forced into prostitution in distant brothels.
The law made it a crime to transport women across state lines “for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.” Lawmakers amended the Mann Act in 1978 to include provisions for commercial or sexual exploitation of minors.
David J. Langum, a research professor at Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Alabama, says the law punishes “thought crimes” and is used arbitrarily by federal prosecutors.
“They [use] it like they used the tax code sometimes, to get people they couldn’t get any other way,” says Langum, who wrote the book Crossing over the Line: Legislating Morality and the Mann Act.
“The crime is committed when the state line is crossed — if there is a bad thought in the person doing the transporting,” Langum says.
Over the years, prosecutors have at times used it as a tool against those considered politically or culturally unsavory. In 1913, the feds charged boxer Jack Johnson, who was black.
“The problem with Jack Johnson is he had married a white woman, and everyone was up in arms about that,” Langum says. “He knocked out white boxers, that was also bad. The prosecutor afterwards was quoted as saying, ‘That’ll teach him not to marry a white woman.’”
In 1944, Charlie Chaplin, who had liberal political views, was charged with having sex with a woman who had traveled to New York — not with him, but with her mother. Chaplin was acquitted, but his career took a hit. Chuck Berry was convicted in 1959 for traveling with a 14-year-old Native American girl later charged for prostitution, and he served 20 months in prison.
Four people suspected of running a prostitution service linked to former New York governor Eliot Spitzer were charged under the Mann Act.
More recently, the Mann Act came to play in the 2008 sex scandal involving Eliot Spitzer, then governor of New York. Four people suspected of running a prostitution service linked to Spitzer were charged under the law.
In Jacquot’s case, federal prosecutors alleged that on three occasions he brought his adopted daughter from the Inland Northwest to San Diego, across state lines, to have sex when she was still under age.
In its case, the government refers to alleged child pornography found by the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office on computer hard drives found in Jacquot’s truck the night of the fire. A Bonner County sheriff’s detective also found on the hard drives evidence that substantiates the trips to San Diego, according to court documents.
Silas Harrington, an attorney who worked for Jacquot about 10 years ago, accompanied Jacquot and his adopted daughter to a San Diego Padres baseball game during one of those trips, the girl told a grand jury.
“[Jacquot] was a nice guy, I don’t know anything about his current problems,” says Harrington from his law office in Southern California. “They’re sad, disturbing and I hope they’re not true.”
Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall says he believes the federal government filed molestation charges against Jacquot because they’d already been chasing him for the tax fraud.
Michael Crowley, Jacquot’s attorney, and Faith Devine, the prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of California, declined to comment. Richard Jacquot, David’s uncle, says the allegations are difficult to believe based on what he knew of Jacquot growing up. The two worked together on the family farm in Hayden during summers.
“He did anything that came up to do, from digging holes or ditches to driving tractors, combines, shoveling grain, bucking bales,” Richard Jacquot, 68, says. “He was a very studious and decent person.”
While he says he hopes the molestation allegations aren’t true, Jacquot’s uncle calls the tax-fraud allegations “a trumped-up retribution against [David Jacquot]” by the federal government.
Since the federal charges related only to trafficking a minor for the intent of sex, jurors could not consider the allegations of child pornography or rape during Jacquot’s trial in October.
For their part, federal prosecutors needed to prove that the girl’s trips were specifically for sex.
“With respect to Counts 1, 2, and 3 of the Indictment, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that engaging in unlawful sexual activity was one of the dominant purposes, as opposed to an incidental purpose, for the defendant to transport [the girl] from the State of Washington to the State of California,” jury instructions read.
At trial, Jacquot’s defense attorney, Crowley, argued that the judge should toss out the case. If Jacquot had been raping his adopted daughter for several years, Crowley argued, the trips to San Diego would not have been expressly for sexual purposes.
Hodge testified at the trial and was in the court when Jacquot took the stand in his defense. Hodge says Jacquot told jurors his adopted daughter slept in a separate room in the hotel suite and rented the pornographic videos without his knowledge.
Jacquot, who had lost his ability to speak after the fire, gave his testimony in a machine-like voice, Hodge recalls.
“He talks like that . . . Star Wars robot,” Hodge says.
Clinical and forensic psychologist Bruce Yanofsky told that court in a competency hearing that Jacquot suffers from “some form of mild traumatic brain injury,” records state. Jacquot’s attorney, meanwhile, speculated in a hearing that Jacquot sustained his injuries by jumping out of the third-story office during the fire.
Crowley also argued in court before trial that it was Hodge who conjured up the theory that Jacquot committed arson and possibly attempted murder — a story, the attorney said, concocted from a man still angry about being evicted from the Jacquots’ property.
In the end, a federal judge declared Jacquot’s case a mistrial after it ended in a hung jury.
A new trial on the Mann Act charges is scheduled to begin on Jan. 5, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of California. Jacquot’s trial on tax-fraud charges is pending in federal court; no date has been set.
Marshall, the Bonner County prosecutor, has not ruled out filing charges against Jacquot relating to the molestation allegations.
“I’m kind of waiting in a holding pattern on the disposition of the charges” in the federal case, Marshall says.
In the meantime, Jacquot is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego, next to the federal courthouse, not far from the suburb where prosecutors say he first raped his adopted daughter. She still lives in North Idaho, as does Ann Jacquot.
As for the fire that consumed the Jacquot home, no one has been charged with starting it. The fire report, however, does note that investigators found Jacquot’s wallet, $300 in cash, and two suitcases in his pickup the night of the blaze.
“It was a certainly a suspicious fire,” Marshall, the prosecutor, says, “and he’s a person of interest in that matter.”
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