EVERETT — For eight years, the Everett roofing company hemorrhaged money.
It seemed the harder Kim Henderson worked, the more money his business lost.
Sure, there was the recession back in 2008. Those were lean times for everyone in the industry.
Yet the economy eventually improved and his company was still hurting. Henderson was reminded of that reality every time one of his competitors drove past in a shiny new work truck that he could not afford.
The business owner had to lay off roofers and sales staff. He eventually cut his own salary in half and then stopped taking a paycheck altogether. He dipped into his retirement to keep things afloat.
“All the sleepless nights, all the turmoil,” he said.
Why, he wondered, was his business failing?
The answer arrived on a Monday, three days before Christmas in 2014.
He’d been gone for a week and asked his secretary how much money came in while he was away. He’d been expecting some big checks. There was no money.
It was then the bookkeeper emerged from her second-floor office. She was someone Henderson had once been close to, someone he trusted, someone above suspicion. Until that moment, it had never dawned on him that she’d been stealing from the business for years, in good times and in bad.
Michelle Huntley, 48, was sentenced in January to nearly five years in prison after pleading guilty to eight counts of theft and identity theft.
A restitution order for $1.98 million gives the best estimate of how much money the Mount Vernon woman siphoned from the company.
For Henderson, it also shed light on why she’d told the workers there would be no Christmas bonuses, long after the recession had ended. In those disappointing Decembers, she was pocketing tens of thousands of dollars.
Henderson isn’t holding his breath that he’ll ever be made whole.
These days, he’s more focused on recovery. His company, though not the size it once was, is back on solid financial footing although it now leases part of its building and storage yard to a towing outfit.
Before sentencing, Huntley wrote to a judge: “As I reflect back to the crimes I committed, I want to explain why I did them. The truth is, I don’t know why I did them. I don’t know how it all started. I’m just thankful it’s finished.”
Her attorney, Natalie Tarantino, wrote: “She does not know why she started taking funds from the business but her behavior developed into a pattern of taking the money and using it to gamble and be generous with family and friends. She did not keep the money but simply lived each month far above her actual income.”
Henderson has trouble comprehending spending that much cash in that short amount of time.
“I can’t even imagine having that much liquid cash to burn through,” he said.
Huntley stole anywhere from $189,143 in 2008 to $470,677 in 2014, the year she could no longer hide the deception. Those sums were detailed in a report by an Everett police detective who specializes in white-collar crimes. Prosecutors said Huntley abused her position of trust.
“The scheme was simple,” Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Jacqueline Lawrence wrote in court papers. Henderson once had two companies: Masterwork Roof and Master Roof. When the economy was slowing in 2006, Henderson said he asked Huntley to close the Master Roof bank account.
That didn’t happen. Instead, for eight years, she would deposit checks for work performed into the account Henderson believed had been closed. “She would then use that account as her own personal piggy bank, writing herself hundreds of checks over the course of several years,” Lawrence wrote.
Henderson, who grew up in south Snohomish County, was 25 when he started his roofing company. He’s been at it for nearly 39 years.
He’s thankful his business survived and can prosper again, even on a smaller scale, and that the Christmas bonuses have been restored.
He thinks of the doctored financial reports he’d look at all those years and wishes he’d had an independent auditor come in to examine the books.
He knows his story is a cautionary tale and that there will be those who’ll wonder why he didn’t grasp what was occurring over eight years.
It was all a matter of trust, he said.
“I never would have imagined that it would happen to me,” he said.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.