Former Franklin County manager charged by Washington Attorney General's Office

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldMay 26, 2012 

The Washington Attorney General's Office filed charges Friday against a former Franklin County manager accused of stealing at least $1.8 million from the county to support his gambling and $100-a-day cocaine habit.

Dennis M. Huston of Pasco is charged in Franklin County Superior Court with first-degree theft, money laundering and possessing cocaine.

State prosecutors say Huston, 65, fraudulently submitted invoices and payment requests for Critzer Equipment Co., then deposited the money into a company bank account between March 1990 and February 2012.

Franklin County officials suspect Huston stole another $1 million during that period, but Janelle Guthrie, the attorney general's communications director, said the state can't prove Huston had the money sent to Critzer Equipment before the company closed in November 2001.

Investigators allege that after the legitimate Spokane company folded, Huston continued to use the company's name to steal county money for vehicles parts never delivered.

The state claims he was stealing from $123,000 to $220,000 a year between 2002 and 2011 while he was the county's public works accounting and administrative director.

The invoices ranging from $4,000 to $9,000 were for various equipment parts, and typically two to three payments were made each month, documents said.

The alleged embezzlement was discovered earlier this year by the Franklin County Auditor's Office when employees were checking vendors.

When another check came through for approval at the end of January, Huston was caught on a surveillance video making a deposit at the bank with the Critzer Equipment business account.

Huston initially was arrested Feb. 2, but then was released while county and state officials investigated the theft allegations. He then was fired by county commissioners.

Huston could not be reached by phone Friday at his home. He remains out of jail and is scheduled to enter a plea June 12. Assistant Attorney General Scott Marlow will prosecute the case.

"There is no concern that he is a flight risk," Guthrie said, noting he is still in the Pasco area after being released from jail Feb. 7.

Court documents filed Friday allege Huston told Pasco police officers that he had been submitting false invoice vouchers for Critzer Equipment since 1990, less than a year after he was hired by the county.

He was hired as a public works accountant in May 1989, less than eight months after he finished serving 21 months in federal custody for embezzling taxpayer money by using a fake company when he was a finance officer with a federal agency in Montana. At that time, he said he had a drug problem.

In the Franklin County case, court documents allege Huston admitted to creating the Critzer vouchers and forging the initials of others to falsely indicate the voucher had been reviewed, the part received and placed in inventory, according to court documents.

Huston told police he created invoices for Critzer on his county computer and set up passwords needed to access the invoices, according to documents.

Huston told the officers he used the money from the Critzer bank account to buy cocaine and gamble at a local casino, according to court documents.

He also told investigators that he used the money to pay personal bills and make credit card payments.

When he was arrested, he had cocaine, as well as a debit card, blank check and a checkbook for Critzer Equipment, according to court documents.

The state AG's office began investigating about four months ago at the request of the Franklin County prosecutor.

Prosecutor Shawn Sant said he asked the AG's office to handle the case to avoid a conflict of interest.

"I'm glad that they have finally been able to finish up their investigation sufficiently to file charges," Sant said Friday.

He said he believes the charges are appropriate.

Guthrie said that although Huston told police about his involvement in the thefts, officials still needed to conduct a thorough investigation to make sure that there was nothing else that needed to be included in the case.

She said while that investigation is not completed, prosecutors felt they had enough information to charge Huston.

Investigators also had to look into the potential involvement of other county employees, including two of Huston's children who also work for the county. The state prosecutor has determined that Huston was the only one involved in the alleged theft, she said.

The charges of first-degree theft and money laundering are class B felonies with a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and a $20,000 fine plus restitution. Possessing cocaine is a class C felony with a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine plus restitution.

Also, Franklin County has sued Huston and his wife for the $2.8 million he allegedly stole.

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