PORT ANGELES — A Sequim woman has been sentenced in Clallam County Superior Court for what could be one of the largest financial crimes in the county’s history, said Judge Christopher Melly.
Eleana Maria Christianson, 49, pleaded guilty Tuesday to second-degree theft for taking at least $775,000 from Donald and Pilar Tucker, owners of Park Manager LLC, and Donald’s mother.
Also on Tuesday, Melly sentenced Christianson to 45 days in jail starting May 12 following a doctor’s consent that she is fit to serve jail time after surgery April 27.
Christianson’s attorney, Jim Dixon, said she’s in remission now from stage 3 breast cancer, but she has exploratory surgery scheduled April 27.
She and her husband, Bret W. Christianson, originally pleaded not guilty in May 2015 to theft and identity theft charges, but their cases have been delayed more than two years.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jesse Espinoza said the delay stems from the complexity of the case, change in staffing in the prosecuting attorney’s office and Eleana Maria Christianson’s health.
Christianson worked for the Tuckers as an office manager and bookkeeper from 2006-November 2013 until she was fired.
Espinoza said authorities continue to investigate allegations against Bret Christianson, who has a status hearing at 1 p.m. May 25 in Clallam County Superior Court.
According to court documents, the Tuckers said they learned of the thefts in October 2013 after Donald Tucker received a credit check for a property loan and discovered an increased line of credit on his home.
The couple reported to Sequim police that the Christiansons had stolen about $1.25 million from their business, which includes nine manufactured housing communities, several rental properties and real estate holdings including 400 rental units.
However, Tucker said that since the preliminary investigation, they’ve learned the amount is allegedly closer to $1 million.
The Tuckers settled with the Christiansons through a civil lawsuit for $775,000, of which they’ve received about $645,000, Espinoza said.
“For Clallam County, a little country county like ours, the allegations that showed up in the first police report I read, and the first charging document, had staggering numbers in it,” Melly said. “You can kind of expect that thing in the big city, but not in little old Clallam County.”
Melly opted to give Eleana Christianson jail time in lieu of the prosecuting attorney’s staff’s recommendation for 30 days’ home monitoring as a first-time offender.
“Justice demands it,” he said. “The Tuckers are entitled to it.”
The Tuckers both spoke in court Tuesday about the financial and emotional damages of the theft.
Donald Tucker asked Melly to consider jail time, saying “[Eleana Christianson] was the mastermind behind a criminal conspiracy that robbed our family of almost a million dollars. Perhaps the largest embezzlement in this county. She forever changed the way Pilar and I trust.”
Espinoza said the prosecuting attorney’s office didn’t request jail time because doing so typically encourages first-time offenders of cases like this to repay damages more easily.
Work for Tuckers
In her work for the Tuckers, Eleana Christianson had access to multiple accounts and portfolios through Park Manager LLC, the Tuckers and Donald’s elderly mother, Jeannine McQuillen, who has Alzheimer’s disease, police reports state.
The Christiansons allegedly took rental income, made unauthorized online transfers between accounts for personal use, paid personal bills and forged checks. Some of the reported theft includes credit cards used in McQuillen’s name and separate expenditures of an estimated $163,390 at 7 Cedars Casino from Dec. 2, 2010, to June 27, 2013, where Eleana only won $11,537 back gambling.
When first confronted about the unauthorized transfers from accounts, Eleana claimed she had made some “unauthorized payroll advances,” totaling about $20,000, according to Sequim police reports, but she later told Tucker she made unauthorized credit card charges and cash withdrawals from both the personal accounts and company accounts.
Allegations against Bret, who worked for Parks Manager LLC from 2007-11, state he used business credit cards for unlawful transactions and that he made a Labor &Industries disability claim but Tucker said he never signed the forms, court documents state.
Tucker said he and the Christiansons signed the restitution agreement in October 2016 and that he received his first payment in January, but no more since.
Tucker told Melly in court Tuesday that the Christiansons have since defaulted on the agreement and they are looking to pay him through equity in their home.
Dixon said Christianson’s financial status has changed and a trust in Bret’s name was used to pay some of the restitution.
Eleana Christianson will return to court at 1:30 p.m. Friday, May 12, depending on her health status, for booking into Clallam County jail.
She could also serve 30 days concurrent to her 45 days in jail for a Class C felony conviction of possession of a controlled substance, hydrocodone. She was arrested Feb. 12 in the J.C. Penney parking lot by a Sequim police officer for investigation of possession of hydrocodone pills. She pleaded guilty to the charge Tuesday.
Following her release from jail, she’ll serve six months in community custody, and she must not go into any casino or ever own a firearm. She also must begin paying $800 in court fees.
When asked by Melly if she had anything to say Tuesday, Eleana said, “I’m sorry.”
Outside of court, Tucker said he was content with the sentencing.
“I’m happy with the judge and really pleased with the effort of Mark Nichols and the prosecuting attorney’s office,” he said.
Eleana Christianson and Dixon chose not to comment after the sentencing.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at email@example.com.