A Kennewick woman could go to prison for stealing more than $200,000 from her retired mother’s 401(k) account to support her own family.
Karrlee T. Clements, 35, was convicted by a Benton County jury of accessing the retirement account over a 16-month period.
Clements had testified during her three-day trial that she and her mother had a codependent relationship, that she was given permission and that none of the money was used for personal gain.
Her mother, Catherine Clements, denied giving access to her nest egg.
Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor said jurors felt it was unrealistic to think the mother would have allowed that much to be withdrawn when she’s not yet eligible for Social Security and her income is the 401(k). Catherine Clements, now 58, had worked at Hanford until 2013.
“It was a very sad case,” Bloor told the Tri-City Herald. “I’m happy the jury held (Karrlee Clements) accountable and I’m looking forward to the next step, which is a fair sentence.”
Bloor said the victim sold her Kennewick home and has moved into an apartment in Las Vegas, where she is “living very frugally.” Her son, who is a police officer, and his family live in Las Vegas.
Karrlee Clements’ brother and sister-in-law reportedly tipped off Kennewick police about the theft after she talked openly about taking the money.
Clements was living with her mother at the time. She and her husband, who were unemployed, have five minor children, Bloor said.
Catherine Clements had withdrawn $15,000 from her Vanguard 401(k) account in December 2013 to help with living expenses, then left the account alone. However, the account balance dropped about $218,000 in 2014 and 2015, court documents show.
At some point, Karrlee Clements admitted in a conversation with her sister-in-law that a friend was making repairs on the house and she was quoting “highly inflated estimates” to her mother, documents said.
Clements said she was getting the money from her mother’s retirement account and would pay her friend the actual expenses for repairs, while pocketing the difference, documents said.
Investigators found that the email address for the retirement account was changed in May 2014. Catherine Clements’ name was on the email’s account profile, but it was her daughter’s initials in the address. And it appeared Karrlee Clements primarily used the email based on airline reservations, the purchase of beauty products and her TurboTax account, court documents said.
Clements set up prepaid cards and credit cards in both of their names through a financial institution, so as not to draw suspicion during multiple transfer requests, investigators reported.
One prepaid card had a $9,920 disbursement from the retirement account, while other cards showed 16 deposits ranging from $3,600 to $18,000, documents said.
There was no evidence that Catherine Clements used any of the cards.
Bloor said jurors were given a snapshot of one month of transactions, which showed the money was used for standard living expenses, fast food purchases and shopping trips to a major retailer.
“There is nothing we can point to and say this is the smoking gun of where the money went,” he said.
The Superior Court jury took about 2 1/2 hours to return guilty verdicts against Karrlee Clements for first-degree theft and first-degree identity theft. Both crimes included a domestic violence allegation and the aggravating circumstance of being a major economic offense.
Clements, who has no criminal history, is looking at six months to one year in county jail, Bloor said. However, he likely will ask for an exceptional sentence with prison time based on the aggravating circumstance.
“I’m going to let the victim think about a proper sentence, and then we will talk to her the week of the sentencing and consider it and try to come up with a fair recommendation,” he said.
Sentencing is Feb. 23.