Franklin County embezzlement case could be resolved Friday

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 26, 2013 

The attorney for a former Franklin County administrator accused of embezzling government money said the case could be resolved in the next week.

John Jensen told a judge Friday that the offer for his client, Dennis Huston, expires Feb. 1. Huston is charged with taking at least $1.8 million from Franklin County.

Jensen said he may schedule another hearing before Judge Vic VanderSchoor next Friday because the defense "may reach a resolution at that point in time."

Otherwise, Huston will go to trial as scheduled March 6 in Franklin County Superior Court on charges of first-degree theft, money laundering and cocaine possession.

Details of an open plea offer typically are not made public.

The comment by Jensen came after VanderSchoor denied his motions to suppress evidence from being introduced to a jury.

Huston is the county's former public works accounting and administrative director. He was arrested on Feb. 2 and placed on administrative leave, then fired six days later by the county commissioners.

Officials suspect Huston took more than $2.8 million from the county since 1996 to support his cocaine and gambling habits. However, the charges account for the "conservative minimum" of about $1.8 million.

Assistant Attorney General Scott Marlow is handling the criminal case because of the county connection.

Court documents state that Huston opened a bank account in the name of a Spokane company, then began charging Franklin County for equipment and parts it never received. The theft scheme allegedly started in 1990, less than a year after his hire.

It wasn't until earlier last year that a Pasco police officer discovered Huston opened the bank account as the sole proprietor under the name Doyle BR/Critzer Equipment and submitted false invoices, documents said.

That's after county Auditor Matt Beaton 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.

The nondrug charges against Huston 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 has a federal conviction from the 1980s for embezzling money when he was a financial officer for the federal Bureau of Reclamation in Montana. He then blamed drugs for the crime because he needed money to pay for the habit.

On Friday, Jensen sought to suppress the cocaine that allegedly was found in a black zipper change purse in Huston's pocket at the time of arrest. Huston was taken into custody at work when officers showed up with a search warrant for his office.

The defense lawyer also wanted the court to toss out all bank account and credit card records that were seized as the result of several search warrants because the court documents did not include an expiration date.

VanderSchoor ruled that there was no prejudice to Huston with the search warrants and allowed the evidence to be used in trial.

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