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Sinners and saints

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Crime author changing the subject


by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Sequim Gazette


Port Angeles author Matthew Randazzo V has made his living, and his considerable reputation, writing about crime and criminals. And not just any criminals, but bad guys of the very worst sort: the lowlifes that together constitute organized crime in America. Heavyweights of mayhem.

Now he’s taking on a new subject: Sequim’s Jaye Moore, described by Randazzo in thumbnail as “a 4-foot, 11-inch, 95-pound, 50-something mother of two.”

Randazzo adds — with obvious affection and respect — “but she’s a ‘badass.’”

Moore, the founder and director of the Northwest Raptor and Wildlife Center in Sequim, has a job that sometimes requires her to wrestle with bald eagles and mountain lions, usually armed with nothing more than a blanket. A short list of the ensuing injuries includes the six holes punched “clean through the hand” by a bald eagle, a deep gash in her stomach from a deer fawn kick and an ear puncture, courtesy of a golden eagle. Encounters with “assorted mountain lions, black bears, lynx, bobcats, owls, foxes, hawks” also have resulted in dozens of serious scars and cuts on her arm, including a severed artery and a slit wrist.

Nevertheless.

Moore’s purpose is to capture these ailing creatures, rehabilitate them and release them back into the wild, and so she does.

”She’s extremely brave, tough and fearless,” Randazzo said. “She’s also extremely loving.”

Randazzo is now the public relations director for the center and his wife, Melissa, serves as the center’s events and volunteers coordinator. Neither receives any compensation other than the satisfaction of working with the animals and with Moore.

“My wife and I have always been animal lovers,” Randazzo said. After moving to Sequim in 2006, “We heard about this incredible woman who was rescuing and rehabilitating thousands of these dangerous animals, basically in her backyard.

“We had to meet. She turned out to be one of the most incredible and inspiring people I’ve ever met.”

Randazzo said the center receives no grant funding and that Jaye and her husband, Gary Moore, have spent “astronomical amounts” of their own money to keep the center open.

“So Melissa and I have made it our mission to get the funds they need to run the center, improve it and make all their dreams come true,” Randazzo said.

Mother Nature’s son

Raising funds isn’t his only job. Randazzo has been helping to train a red-tailed hawk and, beginning in early 2011, he’ll train with Jaye some of the bald eagles that are shown at public events. These birds, which for their own safety can’t be released back into the wild, will serve as some of the center’s “ambassador animals.” They are utilized to educate the public on the importance of the peninsula’s native wildlife and to help in fundraising.

“We rehabilitate and release those we can,” Randazzo said. The rest are ensured a good life, either at the center or another wildlife keep.

Currently there are approximately 30 animals at the center, including a number of bald eagles, a dozen or so owls, a handful of hawks and a falcon. The center also is home to a coyote, a raccoon and “some chickens.”

In the summer the number may rise to 100, with bobcats and mountain lions among the residents. The big mammals usually are farmed out to facilities better equipped to handle them. At the Oregon Zoo in Portland, for example, you’ll meet former Sequim resident “Chinook,” a mountain lion.

Randazzo’s book “Mother Nature” is scheduled for publication in late 2011 or early 2012. The publication of the book should bring the center a considerable amount of publicity: Randazzo is something of a literary heavyweight, with book deals with imprints of both HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster. He also has written for the New York Daily News and appeared as an expert authority on E! Entertainment Television, PBS and more than 100 radio programs around the world. “Mother Nature” may even result in a TV documentary or two.

Randazzo is enthused. “I think it’s really gonna shock people how compelling her story is.”

Where y’at?
Randazzo has his own compelling story.

He was born and raised in New Orleans, which led, he says, to his early and continuing interest in what he calls “underworld history.” New Orleans is a world port and as such is the site of much mischief, including bounteous traffic in illicit funds from gambling, the drug trade and political money.

But crime also is distinguished in New Orleans by being “much more on the surface,” Randazzo said. The laid-back lifestyle and the laissez faire attitudes toward corruption make the “people much more forthcoming” in discussing their criminal activities.

That’s important, he says, because his work requires him to gain the trust of some of America’s very worst criminals. “In my genre, it’s impossible to rely on primary sources,” he said. “With crime, there’s no paper trail — if you’re good.

“I’m big on interviews,” he said. “I’m very big on getting the story from the horse’s mouth.”

Randazzo said he enjoys one advantage as a writer. Very few of his fellow journalists are willing to pursue the stories he seeks out because he has to work with some very bad dudes.

“And you have to gain their trust,” he said.

Randazzo said that requires “keeping your word, making clear what the terms are gonna be.”

He also noted that criminals are no less susceptible to flattery than the average Joe. “Even people who have done horrible things want them to be perpetuated,” he said. “It’s vanity. I’m playing on the ego of the person I’m interviewing.”

The result is a series of popular and important books, including “Breakshot,” a memoir of Kenny “Kenji” Gallo, the most famous Asian-American gangster in modern history. After going undercover, Gallo helped the FBI foil a Mafia plot to defraud the 9/11 World Trade Center reconstruction projects.

That book resulted in a number of indictments, putting the brakes on the criminal activities of the Colombo family, one of New York’s famous five Mafia families.

“By pursuing this I have the ability to make history and to cover history,” he said.

Peninsula bound

Like hundreds of thousands of former New Orleanians after Katrina, Randazzo found he had no home to
return to.

He and Melissa were living in Portland, Ore., when Katrina hit in 2005.

Back in New Orleans, “My family lost everything. There was 9 feet of sewer water for six weeks in the place where I grew up.”

His roots were gone.

Melissa, a Washington native, suggested a move. Randazzo agreed, but with conditions: He wanted to live on the coast, in a walkable city. “And the real estate had to be cheap.

“I thought I’d given her an impossible set of conditions,” he says.

No longer. “I love Port Angeles,” he said. “I love the Olympic Peninsula. We’re putting down roots,” he said. “I expect to have grandchildren here.”

For Matthew and Melissa, the appeal is found in nature. “I’m an outdoorsman,” he said. “I hike, kayak, mountain climb. I live in a city, but I’m five to 10 minutes away from any sort of outdoor adventure. That’s unbeatable.”

Melissa is now the director of administration and marketing for JACE The Real Estate Company in Port Angeles. Matthew is a full-time writer and editor. In addition to his wilderness adventures and his volunteer job with the raptor center, he has one more passion: He’s teaching everyone he can get his hands on about the magic of New Orleans cookery.

For more information on the Northwest Raptor and Wildlife Center, see www.nwraptorcenter.com or sign up at facebook.com/northwestraptorcenter.

For more on Randazzo, check out mrvbooks.com.

Reach Mark Couhig at mcouhig@sequimgazette.com.

 

 

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