Former Franklin official pleads innocent in embezzlement case

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldJune 13, 2012 

PASCO -- Former Franklin County official Dennis M. Huston was back in jail Tuesday after a judge said bail is needed after he allegedly embezzled at least $1.8 million from the county to support cocaine and gambling habits.

Superior Court Judge Robert Swisher said Huston is not a threat to the community. The judge acknowledged that Huston stayed in town after his initial arrest in February and showed up in court as ordered after charges were filed.

However, Huston is 65 and, "He's looking at spending the rest of his life in prison," Swisher noted.

Just minutes before, Assistant Attorney General Scott Marlow had told the judge he was OK with Huston remaining free on his personal recognizance.

But Swisher surprised Marlow and defense attorney John Jensen of Kennewick when he said he was setting bail at $50,000.

Huston re-mained behind bars as of Tuesday evening, according to Franklin County jail staff.

He spent five nights locked up in February when he was first arrested, but was released because prosecutors needed more time to investigate. Huston was fired Feb. 8 from his job as the Franklin County public works accounting and administrative director.

Huston allegedly took $2.84 million since 1996, but the charges filed by the state Attorney General's Office account for a "conservative minimum" of about $1.8 million, court documents said.

About 10 relatives and friends, along with Pastor John Hergert of Pasco First Lutheran Church, were in court in support of Huston on Tuesday as he returned to court. Franklin County Commissioner Rick Miller walked into the courtroom just before the hearing began.

Huston pleaded innocent to one count each of first-degree theft, money laundering and possession of cocaine.

The nondrug charges each allege three aggravating factors that the crime was a major economic offense because: it involved a high-degree of sophistication and planning; it occurred over a lengthy period of time; and Huston used his "position of trust, confidence and fiduciary responsibility."

Huston faces a maximum possible sentence of 25 years in prison if convicted of the crimes.

The trial tentatively is scheduled for Aug. 8, though Jensen doubts it will start that soon. He said the judge should consider it a "complex case" because he already has received more than 4,500 pages of documents, which include investigative reports.

Marlow added that his office is awaiting completion of a Washington State Auditor's Office report on the matter, a copy of which also will go to Jensen.

The charging documents claim Huston started the theft scheme in 1990, less than a year after he was hired, by opening a bank account in the name of a Spokane company. He then began charging the county for equipment and parts it never received, according to the documents.

It wasn't until earlier this year that Pasco police Officer David Yates discovered Huston opened the account as the sole proprietor under the name Doyle BR/Critzer Equipment and submitted false invoices to Franklin County.

That's after staff in the county Auditor's Office found the alleged fraud when an audit of the vendor list revealed that Critzer Equipment was no longer in business, yet the county continued to pay invoices submitted in the company's name.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com

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