A Franklin County official accused of embezzling an estimated $1 million from the county in the last decade was released from jail Tuesday without charges.
The state Attorney General's Office needs more time to investigate the allegations against Dennis M. Huston, the county's Public Works accounting and administration director, said Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant.
Huston, 65, of Pasco, was arrested Thursday and jailed on a 72-hour hold for investigation of first-degree theft, money laundering and possessing cocaine. The hold expired Tuesday afternoon.
The AG's office has a large amount of evidence, including computers and boxes of documents, that must be reviewed before making a decision about charges, Sant said.
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"The case could really be in jeopardy" if the investigation is too rushed, Sant said, noting it could take months to examine the evidence.
Sant said there is always a chance a suspect in a case involving money could leave the area, but a judge can't legally put conditions on Huston's release because he's not charged with a crime.
On Friday, Sant successfully asked that Huston's bail on the 72-hour hold be set at $500,000, saying Huston is a risk to flee because he likely has assets of more than $1 million but it's not known where. He also has a criminal conviction and is near retirement age.
But at the hearing, Huston said he had no money for an attorney and a court appointed lawyer argued that Huston is a longtime Tri-City resident, belongs to a Pasco church and has family in the area.
Sant asked the AG's office to investigate the case to prevent a conflict of interest.
That is something he found other counties have done in similar situations rather than asking a neighboring county prosecutor's office to help, Sant said.
Assistant State Attorney General Scott Marlow, who is in charge of the investigation, has handled similar cases, Sant said.
"I trust his judgment," he said.
Huston remains on unpaid administrative leave, Sant said.
Eight other Public Works employees still are on paid leave. Sant has said they are not accused of any wrongdoing but authorities wanted them out of the office while the allegations are investigated.
The alleged embezzlement came to light during an internal audit conducted by the county auditor's office.
Huston is accused of creating a bank account for Critzer Equipment, a company that closed in 2001. He had no association with the original company when it operated.
When he was arrested, he had a blank check from the Critzer company with him, according to court documents.
Huston reportedly told investigators he was using money from invoices for county payments to Critzer Equipment to buy narcotics and had a small leather bag with what Pasco police believe is cocaine with him when he was arrested, according to documents.
Those allegations are similar to a 1986 federal case where Huston was accused of using his government employment to funnel taxpayer money to himself through a company that didn't exist. In 1986, he blamed the $142,000 embezzlement on a drug problem, according to a Billings Gazette article at the time.
He was ordered to begin serving a four-year prison term on Jan. 5, 1987, and was hired by Franklin County in May 1989.
The specific circumstances around Huston's hiring remain unclear, as county officials do not have access to Huston's personnel file. That file was among documents seized by police as part of the investigation, said County Commission Chairman Brad Peck.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org