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Ex-counselor in prosecutor's office accused of stealing public money

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By Diana Hefley
Herald Writer
EVERETT -- Everett police detectives believe they may have uncovered evidence that a former counselor with the Snohomish County Prosecutor's Office misappropriated public money for at least five years.
The alleged thefts came to the attention of authorities in 2010 while they were investigating claims that the employee had engaged in inappropriate and unprofessional behavior with a female client, according to search warrant filed earlier this month in Snohomish County Superior Court.
The investigation is ongoing and no charges have been filed.
The man worked as a counselor and met with people referred to the prosecutor's office diversion program.
The program is for first-time offenders who meet certain eligibility requirements. The clients enter a contract with the prosecutor's office and if they fulfill certain conditions, such as doing community service or paying restitution to victims, the criminal charges are dismissed or not filed. The contracts typically are for three years, but if the client fulfills all the conditions sooner, the program can be completed in 18 months.
Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe said that when the allegations surfaced last year, the man was placed on administrative leave. When it became clear there was potential criminal conduct, he asked Everett police to investigate. He also asked King County prosecutors if they would handle any decision on charges, a step taken to avoid any conflict of interest.
"It's the same way we handle things, both high-profile and low," Roe said. "... It doesn't matter whether the person works for us or not."
The man resigned from his county job as the investigation has progressed.
Police concluded regarding the harassment allegations that "while (the man's) behavior with some of his female clients was unprofessional at best, there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing in that regard," Everett police detective Joni Lang wrote in court papers.
However, the investigation turned up evidence that the employee had been pocketing money orders that clients had paid in lieu of doing community service, court papers said. Clients are allowed to "buy-out" community service hours at the rate of $10 an hour, police reported.
Those payments are supposed to go to charities.
Investigators interviewed 25 current and former diversion clients, who reported the counselor instructed them to turn in blank money orders to him instead of making them out to a charity. He allegedly told them he would make sure the money "went to the right place," Lang wrote.
Investigators believe the man cashed the money orders and kept the money for himself.
Money orders can be difficult to trace, especially if the buyers don't keep the receipts, Lang wrote.
A review of the employee's records showed that the man didn't record any community service hour payments in his clients' files. He instead noted that they'd completed their community service. Policy requires all checks and money orders to be photocopied and logged into a database, with the account history written down by another authorized employee, Lang wrote.
Investigators uncovered 40 money orders and checks, totaling $5,220 from 16 clients that the employee allegedly misappropriated for his own benefit, court papers said. The earliest theft dated back to November 2006.
Detectives filed for a search warrant earlier this month to search the man's bank records. Investigators believe the records might provide a motive for the misappropriation.
Several clients told investigators that the employee bragged about having a lot of money and offered to buy them cars or pay their rent. He allegedly told one person he liked to spoil women with furs and jewelry, Lang wrote. Other clients told investigators that the employee was concerned that he would lose his job because of budget cuts and was worried about earning enough money.
Herald writer Scott North contributed to this report.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463;
Story tags » EverettPoliceWhite-Collar Crime

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