PASCO -- After spending a week behind bars, Dennis M. Huston is back home today to prepare for his trial on allegations he embezzled at least $1.8 million while working for Franklin County.
Huston, 65, posted a bond on his $10,000 bail and walked out of jail just before 6 p.m. Tuesday, according to a Franklin County corrections officer.
His release came less than four hours after Superior Court Judge Craig Matheson granted a defense request to reduce the amount.
"I think all in all there is some rationale for bail in this case ... because there is a significant allegation here," Matheson said, after reviewing the lengthy probable-cause affidavit in the case.
The former Franklin County Public Works accounting and administrative director is accused of starting the theft scheme in 1990, less than a year after his hire, to support cocaine and gambling habits.
Court documents allege he opened a bank account in the name of a Spokane company, then began charging Franklin County for equipment and parts it never received.
The Pasco man pleaded innocent at a June 12 court appearance to first-degree theft, money laundering and possession of cocaine. That's when Judge Robert Swisher ordered Huston held on $50,000 bail.
Swisher had said Huston is not a threat to the community, but also pointed out that he faces a maximum possible sentence of 25 years in prison if convicted of the crimes.
On Tuesday, Matheson said he understood why his colleague initially made that decision but added that $10,000 cash or bond is fair since this is a property crime and not a violent crime against a person.
Matheson noted Huston has a conviction for a crime similar to the current allegations. But he also agreed with lawyer John Jensen's point that Huston stayed in the Tri-City community for almost four months after his initial arrest, knowing about the investigation and the fact charges were forthcoming.
Jensen, who was hired to represent Huston, said Tuesday that he asked to have the review hearing before Swisher, but the judge reportedly told him the matter could be handled on the regular criminal docket.
The trial is set tentatively for Aug. 8.
Jensen said the biggest question in arguing for Huston's release is whether there's a risk his client won't appear at future court hearings.
A Spokane native, he's lived in the Tri-Cities since 1989 when he moved here for the Franklin County job. His three daughters live here along with most of his grandchildren, so "he's got nowhere else to go," Jensen said.
The defense has received 4,500 pages of documents in the "complex case" and is awaiting a Washington State Auditor's Office report, all of which need to be reviewed with Huston as they prepare for trial, the lawyer added. That might be difficult to do if he needed to coordinate with the jail to hand over all the paperwork, Jensen said.
Huston has turned over his passport, has done intensive outpatient treatment while continuing with Alcoholics Anonymous, and has significant medical issues and is on medications, his lawyer said.
He gave the court two letters -- from Dr. Alex Najera of Pasco and Pastor John S. Hergert of Pasco's First Lutheran Church -- to vouch for Huston.
Hergert, who is known Huston for 21 years, wrote that he was shocked when the allegations came out in February but said instead of going into hiding, Huston has attended church regularly and goes to several counseling sessions a week.
The pastor asked to have the bail lowered or eliminated because Huston has deep roots in the community with his immediate family here, and there's no indication he will take off.
"I just don't see that Mr. Huston is one who would do this, and even with the gravity of the charges, he shows every indication of being willing to face his accusers and to have his day in court," Hergert said in his letter.
Assistant Attorney General Scott Marlow, who is handling the case for Franklin County, had recommended Huston be released on his personal recognizance. Marlow told Matheson that he is aware of Huston's finances as part of the investigation and that there are no grounds for requesting bail at this time.
Huston was fired from his job Feb. 8, less than a week after his arrest.
He allegedly took $2.84 million since 1996, but the charges filed by the state Attorney General's Office account for the "conservative minimum" of about $1.8 million, court documents stated.
The nondrug charges each allege three aggravating factors that the crime was a major economic offense because: it involved a high degree of sophistication and planning; it occurred over a lengthy period of time; and Huston used his "position of trust, confidence and fiduciary responsibility."
It wasn't until earlier this year that a Pasco police officer discovered Huston opened the bank account as the sole proprietor under the name Doyle BR/Critzer Equipment and submitted false invoices to Franklin County, documents said.
That's after staff in the county Auditor's Office found the alleged fraud when an audit of the vendor list revealed that Critzer Equipment was no longer in business, yet the county continued to pay invoices submitted in the company's name.