New theft charges against Connell woman serving time for embezzlement

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldJuly 5, 2014 

A former Connell councilwoman already doing two years for skimming money from a Mesa farm will return to a Franklin County courtroom next week on new theft charges involving another farmer and a public cemetery district.

Monica Lou Pruett, 61, now is accused of embezzling an additional $28,000 through her Connell-based business, Lierman Business Services.

However, a state auditor's report on Pruett's work with Franklin County Cemetery District No. 2 says she received another $32,350 in "questionable" compensation.

Pruett is charged in Franklin County Superior Court with two counts of first-degree theft.

Mesa farmer Robert C. Schuh is the victim named in one charge, with at least $7,000 taken in a six-month period by altering the amounts on checks, court documents said.

The cemetery district, which covers Mountain View Cemetery in Connell, claims Pruett misappropriated $21,135 over 81/2 years, documents said. As the district's business manager, she was responsible for depositing money from plot sales and gravesite closing fees into the district's account.

Pruett had been Connell's mayor pro tem until her resignation in September 2012, a month after she was arrested and charged in another case following a three-month investigation by Franklin County sheriff's detectives.

Former cemetery Commissioner Toby Cochran reported the district's losses to the State Auditor's Office in July 2012 after learning of the investigation into Pruett's business practices with a Mesa farm.

The state did its own investigation and, in a report released this January, said Pruett allegedly failed to deposit $14,025 from plot sales and $5,010 from fees for digging and closing up gravesites. Another $2,100 went toward payments to her private business, the audit report said.

The theft occurred between January 2004 and June 2012, court documents said. The auditor's office couldn't determine if more money was taken because of missing public records.

Pruett reportedly walked out of an October 2013 interview with auditors after she was asked about a discrepancy between the amount of money approved in board minutes and the amount that actually was paid to her business.

Her contract with the district started in 2004 at an initial rate of $150 a month.

In November, Schuh met with sheriff's Detective Jason Nunez after recently realizing some unauthorized payments written to Lierman Business Services.

Schuh told the detective he normally paid Pruett $75 a month for her bookkeeping services, in addition to $15-$20 for postage fees and supplies. She would calculate his employee payments and meet with Schuh to sign checks each month, but she only billed him every few months, court documents said.

In that initial meeting, Schuh showed two checks that had been deposited into Pruett's business bank account.

A December 2011 check had been cleared for $2,240 even though Schuh remembered only paying $240, and a January 2012 check went through for $1,225 -- $1,000 above the amount the farmer had approved, documents said.

Schuh met with Nunez a month later and had two more checks he'd found.

One cleared for $1,200 in October 2011, and another for $3,285 in April 2012. Schuh said he believes the second check was altered after he signed it with a $285 tab, and told the detective that overall he never authorized checks in amounts that large to Pruett, court documents said.

He added that the usual amount he owed Pruett for a three- to six-month period was about $600, documents said.

Pruett was sentenced to prison in November for her guilty plea to one count of first-degree theft involving D & S Farms. A charge of money laundering was dismissed as part of her plea deal.

In that case, Pruett told the judge she was sorry for taking $160,142 from Bill Swensen through her bookkeeping and accounting services for his farm.

Swensen -- who inherited the farm from his father -- was looking into the farm's books when he discovered extra checks in varying amounts were paid to Pruett's business each month that had not been included in the monthly report.

Pruett reportedly stole the money to cover personal utility bills, property taxes and business expenses.

The standard range for the theft was up to three months in county jail, but Pruett admitted that the crime involved a financial loss greater than is typical and the theft took place over an extended period. She was given a two-year prison sentence because of the aggravating circumstances.

Pruett was supposed to appear in court July 1 on the new charges, but she wasn't transported in time for the hearing.

The state Department of Corrections website shows on its website that Pruett has been doing her time at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor. However, court documents for Pruett's transfer show she's been housed at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Belfair.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer

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