A former probation secretary allegedly embezzled a much larger sum from Cowlitz County than initially reported — $62,000 over five years, according to a state audit. In addition, the audit uncovered another $730,000 in questionable transactions, but shoddy bookkeeping makes it unclear whether any of that money also was taken.
State investigators identified $734,895 in "unsupported adjustments" to probation offender accounts from January 2005 to December 2010, according to the report released the state Auditor Monday. However, "due to the lack of records, we could not determine if a misappropriation occurred," investigators wrote. They noted that "adjustments can be used to conceal a theft," but only recommend the county try to recoup the documented $62,000 in alleged thefts.
County Auditor Kris Swanson said she does not believe $730,000 was taken from the county, noting that budget adjustments are a regular part of the probation office bookkeeping.
"It doesn't mean that three quarters of a million dollars necessarily walked out the door," Swanson said. "It's just not substantiated or supported like it should be. They didn't have the accurate or appropriate documentation to back it up."
That said, Swanson said it also is possible that some of the $730,000 figure was taken.
"There's just no way of really telling. But, in my opinion, the whole amount was not taken," she said.
Swanson's office is involved because it oversees county accounting and records, including those of the county's probation department, which she does not supervise directly.
State auditors note the number of annual adjustments dropped after accused employee Maryann Rehaume resigned, but the amounts had been decreasing for several years. In 2005 there were $237,000 in unsupported adjustments, which dropped to $38,900 by 2010. In 2011, after Rehaume resigned, there were $19,900 in adjustments.
Probation Services collects about $500,000 a year from offenders, mostly in cash.
Rehaume, who worked for the county for about 25 years, faces criminal charges of theft and misappropriation of public funds for allegedly pocketing fees paid by probationers in misdemeanor cases. Rehaume, who moved to Arizona but was brought back to face the criminal charges, pleaded not guilty. Her criminal trial is schedule for June 18. She is free pending trial.
The state report researched the alleged embezzlement and identifies what accounting and rule changes can be made to avoid future problems. It is separate from the criminal case, but does include new details about the alleged theft.
Criminal complaints filed in December listed about $9,000 taken in several counts of second-degree theft, for example, but the auditor's report alleges Rehaume took at least $62,150 between 2005 and 2011. The state report never names Rehaume directly, but county officials confirmed it is her. The state report also states that Rehaume, while on administrative leave after problems were noticed in early 2011, tried to return $50,000 by depositing the money back in county accounts. The sheriff's office seized the returned money as part of the criminal investigation.
The state recommends the county seek restitution of the $62,000 in addition to $18,800 the state charged the county for its investigation. Some of that money may be covered by the county's insurance policy.
The county took several steps to beef up its bookkeeping after the problem was discovered, including creating separate accounts and confidential computer access for employees and restricting who can create account adjustments. Swanson also said she's asked state officials to hold workshops for county managers about spotting fraud. She noted in her 14 years as auditor this was the largest such case she's seen.
Rehaume is the wife of now-retired Longview police Sgt. Steve Rehaume. Steve Rehaume has not been accused of any wrongdoing.