ERROR: Macro sectionTag is missing! State Court of Appeals to hear of missing Clallam County money -- Port Angeles Port Townsend Sequim Forks Jefferson County Clallam County Olympic Peninsula Daily news
State Court of Appeals to hear of missing Clallam County money

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

TACOMA — The state Court of Appeals will hear arguments Monday in the case of former Clallam County Treasurer’s cashier Catherine Betts, who was convicted of embezzling more than $600,000 in public funds over six years from a cash drawer at the county courthouse.

Betts, 49, appealed a July 27, 2011, Superior Court conviction that sent her to the Washington Corrections Center for Women at Purdy, near Gig Harbor, for 12 years.

A jury found her guilty of stealing between $617,467 and $795,595 in real estate excise tax proceeds between June 2003 and May 2009.

Betts was convicted of two counts of aggravated first-degree theft, a single count of money laundering and 19 counts of filing false or fraudulent tax returns on behalf of the county.

As of Friday, Betts had paid $1,555 of the $609,216 in restitution she was ordered to pay, according to the Superior Court Clerk’s Office.

During her trial, Betts admitted to stealing an $877 check from the cash drawer.

Appeals Court Clerk-Administrator David Ponzoha said the judges will release a decision “in approximately three months or so.”

Ponzoha said the oral arguments will be streamed at www.courts.wa.gov by Thursday.

Assistant Attorney General Scott Marlow, who prosecuted Betts in 2011 in county Superior Court, will represent the state Monday during about 30 minutes of oral arguments before Appeals Court Judges Jill Johanson, J. Robin Hunt and Christine Quinn-Brintnall.

Seattle lawyer Jordan McCabe, representing Betts, did not return calls for comment Friday.

The money Betts was convicted of stealing has never been found, Marlow said Friday.

“It seems like it went into the bank account and out of the bank account,” he said.

“She was spending it on all different sorts of stuff,” he added.

“She was certainly living beyond her means.”

During Betts’ trial, Marlow estimated she had stolen public funds more than 1,000 times over the six-year period.

Betts hid the thefts by recording false check amounts in the office records, altering and destroying documents, manipulating spreadsheets, creating hidden passwords and falsifying records that the Treasurer’s Office submitted to the state Department of Revenue, according to the state Auditor’s Office.

In his report, Auditor’s Office Director of Special Investigations Jim Brittain wrote, “The actual amount of the loss cannot be determined.”

In her brief to the Court of Appeals, McCabe said several people in the Treasurer’s Office could have manipulated the office’s financial records, and she asserted that the office cashiers “were effectively unsupervised.”

“The state could not show that the defendant had sole access to the cash drawer,” McCabe said.

She also criticized internal controls and security measures in the Treasurer’s Office that she said were so lax, “anyone could have helped themselves to the [real estate excise tax] proceeds.”

McCabe also said there should have been a change of venue because the jury pool consisted of direct victims of the alleged crimes, a factor she called “the 500-pound gorilla in the courtroom.”

In his response brief, Marlow said McCabe never made a motion for a change of venue during the trial proceedings.

During the trial, Marlow said Betts was the only Treasurer’s Office employee who balanced real estate excise tax proceeds.

Then-Treasurer Judy Scott lost her seat in the subsequent general election to Selinda Barkhuis, who based her campaign largely on criticizing Scott for the thefts.

At Purdy, Betts is in long-term minimum-security custody and is eligible for release July 31, 2019, state Department of Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis said.

“What that indicates is, she hasn’t caused a lot of trouble or assaulted staff and is participating in programs,” Lewis said.

Being in long-term minimum-security custody means “you’re not sitting in your cell very much,” Lewis said.

“You’re in class or programs or a job.”

At the time of her conviction in 2011, the embezzlement was the fifth-largest theft of public funds in Washington state since at least 2000.

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 30. 2013 5:53PM
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