SANTA FE, N.M. — Tommy Hook was haunted by the way his career came to a close at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, an old colleague says, and that caused his life to spiral out of control.
Hook, a former LANL official who was a plaintiff in a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit against the University of California, which used to run LANL on its own, was found unconscious in a Tucson strip club bathroom just before 1 a.m. June 25 with signs of trauma and was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Hook, 64, once had a high-ranking position at LANL as an internal auditor, former lab colleague Chuck Montaño told the Journal in an interview.
Hook and Montaño maintained that lab officials retaliated against Hook after he gave a deposition in a 1995 lawsuit on behalf of several laid-off employees by taking away some of his duties. The move caused Hook’s life to go downhill, Montaño said.
“I believe the lab had an adverse affect on him as a person,” Montaño said. “I believe the institution has a way of haunting you. He would have been better off if he never worked at the lab.”
In June 2005, an incident at another strip club – Cheeks on Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe – briefly put Hook in the national spotlight.
Hook was severely beaten in the parking lot of Cheeks. He had filed for whistleblower protection over alleged financial irregularities at the lab and was scheduled to talk to a congressional investigator the following week.
Hook’s then-wife, Susan Hook, speaking for her husband who was in the hospital, said at a press conference after the attack that someone called Hook at home earlier that night and told him to meet up at Cheeks, which was about 50 minutes from their house in Los Alamos.
Susan Hook, who wasn’t home herself and was in Albuquerque that night, said Hook thought he was going to meet with an informant who had information about the lab, but that person never showed up.
Susan Hook said a group of men pulled Hook from his car and beat him, adding that the attackers told him “if you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep your mouth shut.” Hook suffered a broken jaw, herniated disk, concussion and several missing teeth, and a photo of the injured Hook was circulated to the news media.
Hook was scheduled to meet an investigator with the House Energy and Commerce Committee in regards to the alleged misconduct at LANL, prompting the FBI to get involved in the investigation. Susan said her husband didn’t frequent bars and believed his account.
The story was covered by CBS, CNN and The Washington Post, among other national news outlets. It spurred comparisons to the case of Karen Silkwood, a labor activist who’d raised concerns about nuclear safety issues at an Oklahoma facility. She died in a car crash in 1974 while on her way to meet a New York Times reporter.
But Santa Fe police and the District Attorney’s Office later determined that Hook’s severe beating had nothing to do with anything at LANL and said that Hook got into a fight after he backed into a pedestrian while leaving the Cheeks parking lot.
A lawyer for Cheeks also said that a dancer maintained that Hook paid for a $50 lap dance that night, although Hook and his wife continued to dispute that. Two men, Joseph Sandoval and Zeke Nevarez, were indicted in the attack and sentenced to probation. “I can tell you this is not an unusual case,” said Henry Valdez, Santa Fe district attorney at the time. “We do get lots of cases similar to this – fights in and around bars at closing time.”
This week, the Tucson Police Department did not respond to a records request for police reports in Hook’s death, but the department posted details about the case to Facebook.
Detectives named 23-year-old Fredric Stephen Bayles and 33-year-old Davaress Devon Bolden as suspects shortly after the beating at the Venom nightclub and put out arrest warrants for manslaughter. Bolden turned himself in to Phoenix police June 27 and Bayles turned himself in to Tucson police the following day, according to Tucson police Facebook posts.
A family member confirmed Hook’s death, but declined to comment on his passing.
In the Hooks’ 2008 divorce documents, Susan Hook claimed that Tommy was spending a large portion of their money on trips to casinos and gentlemen’s clubs. His divorce attorney told the Journal that year that since the beating at Cheeks, his client had suffered ongoing mental problems and been under regular treatment by a psychiatrist. Hook was granted disability retirement in August 2005, two months after the beating, according to court documents.
Montaño said he worked under Hook as an internal investigator and was a co-plaintiff with him in the 2005 whistleblower suit. He said he hasn’t had contact with Hook in several years, but that Hook was devastated after he gave a deposition in a lawsuit against the lab on behalf of several workers who had been laid off in 1995.
“He did the right thing,” said Montaño, a longtime critic of lab management, who retired in 2010 as part of an undisclosed settlement of his own claims of retaliation over changes in his job duties that he maintained resulted from a report detailing extensive fraudulent billings at the lab.
“He told the truth, and his career came tumbling down after that,” Montaño said of Hook. “I do believe the lab is an institution that has a culture that turns on you.” The lab over the years rejected the whistleblower claims.
Montaño said all “issues” within the lab would fall on Hook’s desk and Hook would assign those cases to different investigators. After Hook gave the deposition, Montaño said LANL officials took internal audit control away from Hook and employees who used to report to him started reporting to someone else.
“That’s the way they destroy your career,” Montaño said. “For that to happen, I think, was devastating for him. He had everything taken away from him. This is the kind of (expletive) that happens to people who are doing their jobs for the taxpayers. He fell all the way down to where he ended up – in a bathroom dead in Tucson. Some people can deal with it, others can’t.”
A LANL spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.