Former Walla Walla County undersheriff gets 6 months in theft case

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 11, 2013 

Walla Walla County's former undersheriff was sentenced Thursday to six months in federal prison for stealing more than $67,000 in cash bail posted for county jail inmates.

Carole Lepiane, 58, used a walker as she entered U.S. District Court in Richland to be sentenced on one count of theft from a federally funded local agency.

In addition to the prison time, Lepiane will be required to spend up to four months in a residential re-entry program. She also paid $81,271.63 restitution -- a stipulation in her plea agreement -- which covered the money she stole and the approximately $14,000 cost of the audit done as part of the investigation.

"I'm very sorry for any actions I took that were detrimental to my coworkers, my family or my boss (former) Sheriff Mike Humphreys," Lepiane said in court. "He did not deserve the stress, and I hope I can regain the trust of my coworkers."

Current Sheriff John Turner called Thursday a "sad day for law enforcement," but said justice has been served and all stolen money will be returned.

"Any time a trusted public servant chooses to violate and betray that trust, it is a bitter sting for us all," Turner said.

Lepiane, Walla Walla's undersheriff from 1999 to July 2009, was charged in federal court in September and pleaded guilty in October.

She embezzled cash that was posted for Walla Walla County jail inmates in cases outside of the county, court documents said. The money she stole was supposed to go into a sheriff's office trust account.

Lepiane deposited the money into her personal account and used it for online shopping purchases. To cover up the theft, she used monthly profit checks that the sheriff's office received from Evercom, a company that manages the phone system for inmates.

The money from the phone system was supposed to go into an Inmate Welfare Fund to improve conditions for inmates at the jail.

The thefts occurred at least 50 times between February 2004 and June 2009.

Judge Fred Van Sickle said Lepiane's actions cast doubt in the county about the credibility of the the Walla Walla County Sheriff's Office and put stress on the people who work there.

"I regard this as a breach of trust," Van Sickle said.

Mary Dimke, an assistant U.S. attorney, said investigators had to look at the bank accounts of other officers to clear them of suspicion.

"It was unfair to honest, hard-working officers," Dimke said.

Lepaine's actions also harmed inmates, a group that typically is not well-educated or informed and would not have known that money was missing from the Inmate Welfare Fund, the judge said.

Lepaine immediately accepted responsibility and did not deny the crime when it came to light, even though she was in poor health and any incarceration will be difficult for her, said her attorney, Michael DeGrasse.

The judge said he considered the financial trouble and stress Lepaine's actions caused -- as well as her poor health and mobility problems -- when determining the sentence. He noted that she paid restitution, which is unusual in embezzlement cases, and receives retirement benefits after working for 35 years.

Lepaine has had difficulty with alcohol but has been sober since at least 2009, the judge said. As part of probation she must undergo a mental health and substance abuse evaluation and be tested for alcohol. She cannot enter a bar.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com

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