Attorney general files charge in Clallam treasury embezzlement case

PORT ANGELES — The state Attorney General’s Office has filed a felony theft charge against Catherine Betts, the former Clallam County Treasurer’s Office cashier who is accused of embezzling $617,467 in public funds.

Assistant Attorney General Scott Marlow filed the first-degree theft charge in Clallam County Superior Court on Tuesday.

Betts has been summoned to appear in Clallam County Superior Court on April 23.

“It’s not my intent that Ms. Betts be arrested on the matter,” Marlow said.

“That would be contrary to the state’s criminal rules.”

The state is not seeking bail because the former Port Angeles resident who now lives in Shelton is not considered a flight risk, nor is she a risk to commit a violent offense or fail to appear in court, Marlow said.

Betts faces an aggravated charge that would allow a conviction above the standard range that carries a maximum of 10 years in prison, Marlow said.

The charge was considered aggravated because it involved a loss “substantially greater” than the $5,000 standard for a Class B felony, it involved a high degree of sophistication and planning, occurred over a long period of time and because Betts used “a position of trust, confidence, and fiduciary responsibility” to commit the crime, according to the charge.

Clallam County officials and Port Angeles police have remained tightlipped about the investigation to avoid tainting a jury pool in Clallam County and opening up the possibility of a change of venue, Port Angeles Police Chief Terry Gallagher said.

“I believe that the citizens of this county have the right to have this case tried in this county and sit in judgement of the suspect,” Gallagher said.

Clallam County Treasurer Judy Scott has said that Betts, 46, remains the lone suspect in the theft from the Treasurer’s Office.

Fraud investigator Jim Brittain of the State Auditor’s Office said that a former cashier embezzled $617,467.15 in real estate excise tax payments from 2004 to May 19, 2009. Betts was the only cashier working at that time in the office.

The treasurer’s office discovered a discrepancy in the books last May and placed Betts on administrative leave. She was terminated a month later.

While the stolen money is covered by county insurance, Marlow has said that it is unlikely that the embezzled funds would ever be recovered.

Port Angeles police detective Jason Viada and Clallam County Sheriff’s Office detective Lyman Moores assisted Gregory Mixsell, an investigator from the Criminal Justice Division of the Attorney General’s Office, in the motion for determination of probable cause that was filed on Tuesday.

In the public court record, Mixsell says that Betts’ co-worker, Anne Stallard, noticed that Betts was disoriented and struggled to balance the daily receipts in the days leading up to her being placed on administrative leave.

Last May 19, Stallard discovered that Betts had incorrectly entered a $877.60 deposit, which did not appear on the real estate excise tax balancing report.

After Betts returned from her lunch break, she confessed to taking the money, Mixsell’s report says.

Stallard told investigators that Betts began crying outside of the Auditor’s Office and repeatedly said: “What have I done” and “I’ve ruined my life for me and my girls.”

She also told Stallard: “They are just going to put me in jail. What about my girls.”

Investigators say Betts confessed to Scott that she had exchanged checks for cash — one for $877 and another for $400.

Stallard and Scott noticed that there was no record of the excise payment that Betts had made on the daily worksheet. It was later found that the check had been deposited.

Cashiers in the treasurer’s office receive cash and check payments over the counter. Betts was allowed to cash traveler’s checks and petty cash checks for customers.

She was responsible for processing real estate excise taxes, preparing daily cash reconciliations, deposits and tax affidavits and prepared monthly reports of taxes collected.

Brittain’s investigation showed $793,595.06 in cashed items between June 1, 2003 and May 19, 2009 that were processed on Betts’ two computer log-in names. Excise tax that the county collects varies on a day-to-day basis.

A monthly average of $11,022 in cashed items fell to $1,281 last July, after Betts was terminated.

The investigation showed that several methods were used to hide or under-report excise tax payments and take cash.

Brittain said that the cashier:

• Destroyed affidavits and recorded them in lesser amounts.

• Crossed out amounts on documents and recorded lesser amounts.

• Recorded affidavits and used a spreadsheet function to conceal the amounts she embezzled.

• Took cash payments from sellers of property and homes and then pocketed the money.

Brittain’s investigation shows a month-by-month analysis of misappropriations from affidavit issues and hidden rows on spreadsheets.

Here’s a year-by-year breakdown:

• 2003: $4,097

• 2004: $32,965.57

• 2005: $75,770.89

• 2006: $115,786.05

• 2007: $100,563.59

• 2008: $198,467.46

• 2009: $93,913.59

In his report, Brittain said procedures in the Treasurer’s Office were lax.

Scott said she has since implemented measures to prevent similar thefts from happening.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at rob.ollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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