$866 or $617,467? Theft amount issue in trial of former Treasurer’s Office cashier

PORT ANGELES — A state prosecutor and Catherine Betts’ attorneys started their opening arguments in agreement on one thing Wednesday: The former Clallam County Treasurer’s Office cashier did pocket tax revenue.

Just how much remains in dispute.

And they could hardly be further apart on that issue.

Defense attorney Loren Oakley told jurors that the theft was limited to $866 — a miniscule fraction of the $617,467 she is accused of taking over five years — and pointed to the possibility that anyone could have taken the rest because of a lack of administrative oversight.

“That would be all well and good,” Oakley said, referring to the state’s argument that Betts pocketed all of the missing funds, “except everyone in that office had full access to her computer.”

Betts, who is also represented by Harry Gasnick, admitted to stealing $866 in one act of theft at a court hearing last month.

State Assistant Attorney General Scott Marlow, who is prosecuting the case, told jurors that Betts still had to balance her accounts at the end of the day no matter who used her computer and countered the defense’s assertion that she was living a modest lifestyle.

Marlow said at one point Betts deposited $150,000 in cash into her bank account, despite earning only $31,000 a year, and “was ringing up to $66,000 on average in credit card debt and paid it off.”

Former office accountant Ann Stallard said in court Wednesday that Betts “always seemed to have a lot of cash on her.”

Betts, who now lives in Shelton, is charged with first-degree theft, money laundering and 19 counts of filing false or fraudulent tax returns with the state Department of Revenue.

Betts is accused of stealing the funds by exchanging checks for real estate excise taxes with money from the office’s cash drawer.

Marlow must prove that she stole at least $5,000 to obtain a first-degree theft conviction, according to state law.

The actual amount taken cannot be determined, state Auditor’s Office fraud investigator Jim Brittain said in his report, but he cited “questionable transactions” during the audit period of Feb. 1, 2004, to May 19, 2009, of $793,595.

The amount taken was placed in hidden rows in her spreadsheets that weren’t discovered until Betts allegedly confessed to supervisors May 19, 2009, of stealing about $1,200.

In a court hearing last month, Betts said she didn’t know why she said she stole that amount, insisting she took only $866.

“When you looked at the spreadsheet, it didn’t look like anything was missing,” said Stallard, who processed Betts’ reports.

Stallard and former Treasurer Judy Scott told the court they had noticed that some real estate excise tax affidavits weren’t in numerical order, pointing to the possibility that documents were missing.

But the problem was attributed to a machine problem rather than to human error.

“We decided it was the machine skipping numbers,” Stallard said, adding that the issue started a few months before any thefts were discovered.

Scott said her staff were supposed to check cashiers’ numbers, but Stallard said that was never done.

The sum at the bottom of the spreadsheets — which didn’t add up properly due to the hidden rows — also was not checked, Stallard said, until Betts allegedly confessed to her and Scott.

Scott described her supervision of her employees as hands-off.

“I don’t micromanage,” she said. “I never did micromanage.”

The trial began Tuesday with the start of jury selection and is scheduled to last up to 10 days.

The 12 jury members and three alternates selected Wednesday include 10 women and five men.

Brittain is scheduled to testify today, agency spokeswoman Mindy Chambers said Wednesday.

Others subpoenaed to testify but who have not been given a date to do so include county Treasurer Selinda Barkhuis and all Treasurer’s Office staff members who worked in the office when the thefts occurred, Barkhuis said Wednesday.

Port Angeles Police Department Detective Jason Viada also was subpoenaed, Chief Terry Gallagher said.

Viada, too, had not been told if or when he will actually testify.

________

Reporter Tom Callis can be reached at 360-417-3532 or at tom.callis@peninsuladailynews.com.

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb contributed to this report.

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