Former Connell councilwoman admits theft

Monica Pruett enters guilty plea to taking $160,000 for personal uses while working as bookkeeper for farm

Tri-City HeraldSeptember 25, 2013 

Monica L. Pruett

TRI-CITY HERALD FILE

— A former Connell councilwoman admitted Tuesday that she took $160,000 to cover personal utility bills, property taxes and business expenses while working as a bookkeeper at a Mesa farm.

Monica Lou Pruett, 60, pleaded guilty in Franklin County Superior Court to one count of first-degree theft.

A charge of money laundering will be dismissed at sentencing Nov. 5.

Pruett’s trial had been set to start Oct. 2.

The theft charge carries a standard range of up to three months in county jail, but Prosecutor Shawn Sant said in the plea statement that he will recommend a two-year prison term.

When Sant charged Pruett just over a year ago, he alleged aggravating circumstances that the crime involved a financial loss greater than is typical, multiple incidents, and she abused her position of trust.

Pruett admitted those allegations in her plea statement, which allows the prosecutor to ask for a higher sentence.

She was arrested in August 2012 by Franklin County sheriff’s detectives after a more than three-month investigation turned up details of the theft at D & S Farms. Pruett was Connell’s mayor pro tem when she was charged. She resigned from her council position a month later in September 2012. Detectives were brought in when owner Bill Swensen found that his farm owed about $100,000 to a Yakima company.

Swensen — who inherited the farm from his father — reportedly had been looking into the farm’s books and discovered extra checks in varying amounts were paid to Pruett’s business each month that had not been included in the monthly report, court documents said.

The theft happened between June 2005 and April 2012.

Pruett, who was hired in 2000, provided bookkeeping and accounting services through her Connell-based business, Lierman Business Services. She was paid $200 a month to write checks for payments and provide periodic financial reports.

Swensen determined that his farm paid Pruett $11,000 in 2011, though only $2,400 was authorized, documents said. When he confronted her about the extra charges from that year, she reportedly said, “That’s what I cost.”

Pruett was fired as bookkeeper in April 2012, and that’s when Swensen found other suspicious payments showing farm checks were used to pay Pruett’s property taxes and Franklin PUD bills for her home and business accounts, court documents said. One check to the Franklin County Treasurer’s Office was for $6,354.

Swensen also found several checks written to “Kenica,” which is not one of the farm’s vendors. Investigators said Kenica is an account owned by Monica and her husband, Kent Pruett, and is used for their rental homes. She said she would deposit D & S checks into that account when a tenant didn’t make a payment and the fund was low.

About $5,000 in checks also had been paid to the self-employed Kent Pruett, though he reportedly had not done any business with D & S Farms. Monica Pruett told investigators she forged her husband’s name on the checks made out to his business and deposited them into the couple’s checking account, and he knew nothing about it because she handled the finances for the family and their businesses.

Sant, in the plea statement, wrote: “The prosecutor confirms that no criminal charges arising from the facts in this particular case will be filed against (Pruett’s) husband, Kent Pruett, as there is no credible evidence that he participated in, nor was he otherwise aware of defendant’s conduct.”

Monica Pruett will be ordered to pay the agreed restitution amount of $160,142 to Bill Swensen and D & S Farms.

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

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