Ex-water manager charged with theft

SNOHOMISH — The former longtime manager at a private water system that serves more than 1,000 homes in unincorporated east Snohomish County is now charged with siphoning away more than $400,000 through theft.

Jesse Orvic Rowe, 75, of Snohomish, ran the Roosevelt Water Association for 25 years, ending in January.

Snohomish County prosecutors say an investigation shows Rowe illegally used water association money for years. The money paid for more than $270,000 in his credit card bills, purchased power tools and even kept the lights on at his home, according to charging papers filed by deputy prosecutor Christopher Sedgewick.

The first-degree theft charge filed Thursday in Snohomish County Superior Court was brought with aggravating factors alleging that Rowe abused his position of trust to commit a major economic offense.

That means Rowe could face extra prison time if convicted as charged.

The association distributes water purchased from the city of Everett. Its operations are overseen by a board of trustees.

The water association in June brought a civil lawsuit against Rowe, alleging fraud and conversion. The lawsuit says that Rowe was fired after financial work in preparation for construction loans turned up accounting irregularities.

Routine audits hadn’t highlighted trouble earlier, but by late 2012, the association was demanding answers to problems it had uncovered, court papers say.

The board in January confronted Rowe “about the many unauthorized purchases and conversion of (association) funds for personal use,” according to the criminal complaint. “Rowe responded saying he felt he was entitled to do this because of extra work he had been doing for the Association. He said this was an ‘unorthodox’ way of being compensated.”

During the exchange, which prosecutors say was recorded, Rowe allegedly said he hadn’t reported this compensation to the Internal Revenue Service “because what he had been doing was ‘unethical.’”

The water association’s new manager referred questions about Rowe to attorney William Mitchell, who is handling the civil case for the Everett law firm Cogdill, Nichols, Rein, Wartelle and Andrews. Mitchell declined comment on the criminal case, citing the active police investigation.

Through his attorney, Rowe denied the allegations made by the water association in the civil case. His counter claim alleges his former employer owes him unpaid wages.

Rowe has no known criminal history, according to prosecutors.

Scott North: 425-339-3431, north@heraldnet.com.

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