Former county worker faces 42 felony counts

EVERETT — A former Snohomish County employee who has been under investigation since 2010 for embezzling money now faces dozens of felony charges.

King County prosecutors late Friday charged Fredrick Bletson Jr. with 42 counts of misappropriation of accounts by a public officer. Bletson is accused of pocketing about $14,000 from clients he supervised as part of his job as a diversion counselor with the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Investigators believe that Bletson allowed more than 40 clients to pay him instead of doing community service. Evidence was uncovered showing that Bletson was keeping the money even though he told clients it would be sent to charities, according to court papers filed in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Bletson, 60, is expected to be arraigned on the charges early next month.

King County deputy prosecutor John Carver alleges that Bletson used his position of trust to facilitate the thefts. That allegation opens the door for a more serious sentence, if he’s convicted.

Bletson came to the attention of his bosses in June 2010 after a female client complained about him making inappropriate sexual comments. While authorities were investigating the woman’s complaint, staff in the prosecutor’s office uncovered what appeared to be irregularities in how Bletson was handling money turned over by clients.

Everett police detectives were asked to investigate.

Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe also asked King County prosecutors to review the police investigation once it was done to determine if charges should be filed. That was to avoid any conflict of interest, Roe said.

Bletson was immediately placed on administrative leave. He has since resigned, court papers said.

Everett police detective Joni Lang concluded that Bletson’s comments to the female client were unprofessional, but didn’t rise to the level of a crime. The detective, however, alleged that her investigation had uncovered that Bletson had been stealing for years, court papers said.

Bletson worked part-time as a diversion counselor between 2002 and 2007. He also was working part-time in other county departments, including Planning and Development Services and Finances. He became a full-time diversion counselor in 2008.

The diversion 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 performing 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.

Lang concluded that Bletson didn’t follow the standard diversion contract with dozens of clients. Instead of making them complete 100 hours of community service, Bletson allegedly allowed clients to “buy out” community service at a rate of $10 an hour. Clients were told to provide Bletson with blank money orders. He reportedly told them that he would see to it that the money “went to the right place,” court papers said.

Lang said she uncovered evidence showing that Bletson was cashing the money orders and keeping the funds.

The detective found thefts dating back to 2006. The most recent was the day Bletson was placed on administrative leave.

Bletson’s financial ledgers appeared normal. He documented the standard fee collected in every diversion contract. Because money is not typically collected for community service hours, no one expected or missed the money that Bletson allegedly took from clients, Lang wrote.

The diversion clients never complained because they were given credit for community service hours. Money orders are not returned so the clients didn’t have any way to know that they’d been cashed by Bletson, Lang wrote. The clients also didn’t know that Bletson was handling their cases differently than other counselors, court documents said.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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