Former Walla Walla County undersheriff plans to admit embezzlement

By Paula Horton, Tri-City HeraldOctober 9, 2012 

The former Walla Walla County undersheriff is expected to admit Thursday that she stole cash bail posted for inmates over a five-year period to pay for personal online shopping purchases.

Carole Lepiane is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Spokane to change her plea, according to online court records.

At Lepiane's initial appearance Sept. 26 in federal court in Yakima, she pleaded innocent to allegations that she embezzled more than $67,000 from Walla Walla County.

She was charged Sept. 19 with theft from a federally funded agency.

Lepiane, who was released on her personal recognizance, was the undersheriff for the Walla Walla County Sheriff's Office from at least 1998 to July 2009, court documents said.

She is accused of pilfering the cash bail that was posted for Walla Walla County jail inmates in cases outside of the county, which should have gone into a sheriff's office trust account.

To cover up the missing money in the trust account, Lepiane reportedly used monthly profit checks that the sheriff's office received from Evercom, a company that manages the phone system for inmates.

Evercom charges inmates to make phone calls from the jail and provides a share of that money to the sheriff's office.

Investigators say Lepiane deposited the Evercom checks into the bail trust account, documents said.

A jail captain was responsible for taking the cash bail to the sheriff's office each day, where the money would be counted and hand-delivered to Walla Walla County superior and district courts, documents said.

Lepiane or a subordinate was responsible for depositing the bail money posted for courts in other counties into the trust account, documents said.

The Evercom checks were delivered to Lepiane or left in her mailbox each month. The checks were supposed to go into the Inmate Welfare Fund that is maintained by the county treasurer.

Lepiane is accused of using her position as undersheriff to steal a total of $67,145.63 from the county in a "check for cash swap," documents said. The theft occurred at least 50 times between February 2004 and June 2009.

She reportedly deposited the stolen cash into her personal account and used it to make online purchases.

The Washington State Patrol first investigated the theft in October 2009 at the request of then-Sheriff Mike Humphreys, the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin said.

The state Auditor's Office and the FBI also were involved, the newspaper said.

Lepiane's husband, College Place Police Chief Dennis Lepiane, referred the newspaper to his wife's Walla Walla attorney, Michael de Grasse.

"Carole Lepiane is very sorry for the trouble she has caused her family, her former employer and Walla Walla County," de Grasse said in a statement to the Union-Bulletin. "She hopes to make amends."

-- Paula Horton: 582-1556;phorton@tricityherald.com

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