EVERETT — Church leaders from around Western Washington gathered in Snohomish County Superior Court on Wednesday to offer their support for Fredrick Bletson.
Bletson, 61, was a former employee in the county prosecutor’s office who stole thousands of dollars that people in a crime-diversion program thought was going to charity. He pleaded guilty to 10 counts of felony misappropriation and falsification of accounts by a public officer.
After a hearing that stretched more than an hour, Judge Bruce Weiss ordered Bletson to serve three months of work release, one month of community service and five months of electronic home monitoring.
Bletson had no criminal history, but he abused his power as a public official, Weiss said. The people who gave Bletson money trusted him because he was an authority figure. They thought that if they questioned Bletson, they would be kicked out of the program, Weiss said. The people Bletson targeted were being given a chance to avoid prosecution and jail in exchange for restitution and community service.
“You had an obligation as part of your job to instill confidence in the system in the community rather than destroy it or cause people to question it,” Weiss said. “What you have done has created a poor image for the entire criminal justice system.”
Bletson wasn’t initially eligible for work release because he has been working from home, caring for his grandchildren, attorneys said in court Wednesday.
Weiss halted Wednesday’s sentencing so Bletson’s church colleagues could provide confirmation that they had jobs for him that would qualify him for work release. One involves working with children as a mentor in a school or church setting. Weiss said he considered giving Bletson only electronic home monitoring but that Bletson’s former role as a public official made the offense more serious than other white-collar crimes of similar scale.
Bletson also has agreed to pay about $15,000 in restitution to the United Way.
King County Councilman Larry Gossett spoke in court in favor of Bletson, whom he’s known since the 1980s. Gossett noted that much of Bletson’s professional and personal life has involved giving back to the community.
“I would not be up here if I did not think that Fredrick deserves a second chance,” Gossett said.
In a church or school environment, Bletson can teach young people about his mistakes, said the Rev. Paul Stoot of Greater Trinity Missionary Baptist Church.
Bletson spoke at length at the end of the hearing, stopping at times when his voice became choked with emotion.
Everything prosecutors accused him of was true, Bletson said.
“At some point, I realized there was an opportunity to take money,” he said. He rationalized it to himself, and “after awhile of doing this, I just became caught up in my regrettable course of action.”
As a result of the criminal case, Bletson lost his job, his right to vote and his reputation was “forever marred,” he said. He apologized in court to his former colleagues and clients, and his family and friends. Multiple community organizations that Bletson was associated with had their bank records scrutinized by police detectives during the case, he said. He filed bankruptcy and lost contract work as word got out about his misconduct.
Bletson knows he has done meaningful work in his community, but that he and his family have been hurt by “the negative part of my legacy I have left,” he said.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.