Embezzler of up to $795,595 from Clallam County released from prison due to severe illness

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Public-funds embezzler Catherine Betts, who is seriously ill with breast cancer, has been released from prison and is living in Port Angeles, according to state Department of Corrections officials.

Betts, 49, who was put on extraordinary-medical-placement status, will be under the supervision of the agency’s Port Angeles field office, Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis said.

The former Clallam County Treasurer’s Office cashier was transferred Wednesday from the Washington Corrections Center for Women at Purdy, he said.

“The fact that she is out means that she’s got significant medical conditions,” Lewis added.

Corrections spokeswoman Norah West said Betts is living in a private residence and is on electronic home monitoring.

Lewis said Betts is scheduled to be released in July 2019, when she will have completed two-thirds of her 12-year, July 27, 2011, conviction for stealing between $617,467 and $795,595 in real estate excise taxes.

“Based on her criminal history, she is considered a low risk to reoffend,” Lewis said.

Attorney Jordan McCabe of Bellevue, who represented Betts in an unsuccessful appeal of her conviction to the state Court of Appeals, said in August that Betts has stage 4 breast cancer and estimated that she had “a couple, three years to live.”

McCabe did not return a call for comment Thursday.

West said Betts must report to the field office once a month and is subject to home visits.

“If her medical condition should improve enough for her to manage everyday daily functions on her own, then her extraordinary medical placement would end, and she would return to prison,” West said.

Betts is one of only seven people among the 17,000 incarcerated by the Department of Corrections who are on extraordinary medical placement, West added.

At her trial, Betts was found guilty 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.

Her sentence included payment of $607,516 in restitution, the largest amount ever assigned to the county’s pay-or-appear program.

Betts was ordered to pay $597,516 in restitution to Great American Insurance Group, the county’s $10,000 deductible on the insurance policy, $1,000 in attorney fees, a $500 victim assessment fee and a $100 DNA fee.

As of Thursday, Betts had paid $1,657 of what she owes, Superior Court Clerk Barbara Christenson said.

When Betts was convicted in 2011, her theft was the fifth-largest embezzlement of public funds in Washington since at least 2000, according to the state Auditor’s Office.

The Division 2 state Court of Appeals upheld her conviction July 30 but ordered that Betts be resentenced.

Superior Court Judge S. Brooke Taylor, who presided at Betts’ trial, said at her sentencing that she lacked remorse, an issue that the jury, not Taylor, should have addressed, according to the appeals court’s unanimous ruling.

Betts petitioned the state Supreme Court to review the ruling, a request that was denied Oct. 25.

The case soon will be remanded back to Clallam County so Betts can be resentenced, appeals court Clerk-Administrator David Ponzoha said.

“It’s up to the trial court to decide what to do in view of what the opinion states.”

At her trial, Betts admitted to one act of theft: stealing an $877 check.

State Assistant Attorney General Scott Marlow estimated at Betts’ trial that she stole public funds — real estate excise taxes — 1,000 times between 2003 and 2009.

Her scheme involved exchanging checks for cash, recording false check amounts, creating hidden spreadsheets on her computer and falsifying, altering and destroying public documents, according to court records.

None of the funds that Betts was found guilty of stealing has ever been recovered.

Her attorney, Harry Gasnick, contended at her trial that internal controls at the Treasurer’s Office were so lax that it was impossible to determine the thief’s identity.

After the scam was discovered, office accounting procedures were tightened by then-Treasurer Judy Scott and current Treasurer Selinda Barkhuis, who defeated Scott in the November 2010 election.

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

Last modified: November 14. 2013 6:52PM
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