Franklin County officials were told in an anonymous letter three years ago that one of their county managers had been convicted of embezzlement and demanded the issue not be "swept under the carpet."
The 2009 anonymous letter writer accused the employee of falsifying an invoice for a tire purchase and allegedly pocketing $21,000 to $40,000 for tires the county never received.
The Herald obtained the one-page letter through the state's Open Records Act. It has names of people and businesses blacked out by the county prosecutor because it contained unfounded allegations.
However, documents previously obtained by the Herald show Dennis M. Huston, the county's fired Public Works accounting and administrative director, was the subject of the FBI investigation triggered by the letter.
"I also would encourage whomever investigates this issue to look further than this one incident," according to the typed letter. "I'm sure you will find discrepancies and/or other schemes that (name redacted) is involved in to steal money from Franklin County to support his gambling."
Huston, 65, is suspected of embezzling nearly $2 million from the county from checks sent to a defunct Spokane company.
Huston is not charged with a crime. He initially was arrested but then released while county and state officials investigate the theft allegations.
The FBI investigated and didn't find anything, according to county documents.
Huston was hired by Franklin County in May 1989, less than eight months after he finished serving 21 months in federal custody for embezzlement.
He was convicted in 1986 of stealing $142,000 in taxpayer money by using a fake company while he was a finance officer with the federal Bureau ofReclamation in Montana. At that time he said he had a drug problem.
The 2009 anonymous letter details Huston's previous conviction for embezzlement. Included in the letter is a case number, conviction date, judge's name and his inmate number. And the letter says his number can be found on the Federal Inmate Locator website.
The letter writer questioned whether the county was aware of Huston's conviction and if officials knew about it, why he was hired in a position where he would be making financial decisions and handling a large amount of taxpayer money.
The letter also urged investigators to look beyond Huston.
"There are other employees in the county that have knowledge of (name redacted) illegal transaction(s)," claimed the letter.
"Please ensure that this issue is thoroughly investigated and that (name redacted) and any others are held accountable for their actions," said the letter.
After finding the letter on his doorstep, Franklin County Commissioner Rick Miller said he asked County Administrator Fred Bowen whether the felony conviction was on Huston's job application.
Miller said he was told that there was no information on the application about a conviction, and that it had not been asked as a question on the form.
Officials say those documents are not available for release to the public now because they have been seized by state and county investigators.
Miller said that despite the FBI finding nothing wrong in 2009, he remained concerned because of how specific the letter was.
"The unfortunate thing about it is that three years ago, it could have stopped," Miller said.
The alleged embezzlement was discovered this year when county auditors were verifying the legitimacy of the county's 2,000 vendors.
Documents show that payments continued to be made to Critzer Equipment of Spokane for vehicle parts even after the company went out of business in 2001.
County records and invoices show Critzer was paid $1.78 million for parts from 2002 until January 2012.
The county issued another $153,087 in checks to Critzer in 2001 but it's unclear when the company went out of business that year. Critzer Equipment's assets were sold to another Spokane company in December 2001.
When Huston was arrested last month, he allegedly had a blank check for Critzer and he reportedly told investigators he used some of the money to buy drugs, according to court documents.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org