A former bookkeeper pleaded innocent Thursday to allegations she embezzled $745,000 from a Richland doctor to buy purses and jewelry and to take trips.
Jennifer L. Morris, 42, faces trial Dec. 5 in Benton County Superior Court on one count of first-degree theft.
It includes the aggravating circumstance that the theft, which allegedly happened for at least four years, was a major economic offense to Dr. Robert L. Whitson and his Richland family practice.
Earlier this week, Whitson told the Tri-City Herald that he trusted Morris to manage his books and was “enormously disappointed” to discover the alleged theft.
After the news broke, some people criticized him on social media for not noticing the missing money.
“When my trusted manager was found to have embezzled a large sum, I drew criticism from members of the community for not being aware of the ongoing damage,” Whitson said in a follow-up letter to the Herald. “I was accused of having so much money that I didn’t miss it.”
“Yes, I was trusting and naive but I was not wealthy,” he said.
The doctor said he was forced to clean out his daughter’s college fund, close his retirement accounts and take out a second mortgage. Additionally, the Internal Revenue Service attached his Social Security, he wrote.
“My credit was destroyed,” Whitson said.
Morris worked for Whitson for 12 years. She had been an hourly employee, working an estimated four to eight hours a month.
On Thursday, defense attorney John Jensen pointed to two thick binders of investigative reports as he asked the judge to consider it a complex case and move the hearings out a couple of months.
“It’s going to be impossible for us to get through that amount of discovery in four weeks,” Jensen said.
Judge Bruce Spanner allowed her to be released without bail while the case is pending.
Morris allegedly used the doctor’s account to make several electronic fund transfers each month to cover payments on her mother’s Chase credit card. The individual transfers ranged from $1,000 to $10,425.
Detectives reportedly found several bookshelves filled with purses still in their packages, along with multiple bags of jewelry during a search of Morris’ Pasco home.