Franklin sheriff says anonymous courthouse letters were harassment

Franklin County Courthouse, Pasco.
Franklin County Courthouse, Pasco. File

The mystery of the writer — or writers — who sent a series of anonymous letters claiming time card fraud in the Franklin County Courthouse is coming to an end.

Two investigations, one criminal and one fraud, are wrapping up.

It appears neither has found the source of the letters, which began in 2016 and asserted that an employee in the county commissioners’ office was falsifying time cards.

Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond said he’s completed his criminal investigation without confirming the writer’s identity.

The sheriff said he believes the letters constituted harassment against a now-former employee.

The sheriff’s office investigation addressed the potential cyber threats sent by email, not the false time card allegations.

The investigation results will be forwarded to prosecutors for a final decision. Charges are unlikely since the writer is unknown. After that, the report will be available to the public.

The letters stopped in 2018 when the criminal investigation began.

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The Washington State Auditor’s Office also is reviewing the allegations. The agency has circulated a draft of its report to county leaders, according to Franklin County Auditor Matt Beaton, who attended a meeting to review the document.

Beaton said the county asked for time to prepare a response. He expects the state auditor to release the report as early as this week.

He declined to elaborate on what it will say, noting that the final report could change.

“I eagerly await the public release of the independent state auditor fraud investigation,” he said.

An earlier third investigation, by a private investigator hired by the county, ended when the sheriff took over the case.

The private investigator submitted invoices for about about $17,000 after conducting highly-charged courthouse interviews with county employees.

Franklin County Chairman Brad Peck has called the allegations of time card fraud “absurd.” The employee wasn’t required to keep an hourly time card under federal employment law, he said.

The human resources department reached the same conclusion.

The letters didn’t come into public view until this fall when several candidates for county office cited the private investigation as evidence the courthouse is in chaos.

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Commissioner-elect Clint Didier said it was one reason he challenged Commissioner Rick Miller.

Didier, who will take office in January, said he feared the county’s handling of the complaints could lead to a whistleblower retaliation suit.

The Tri-City Herald received a five-page, tightly spaced anonymous letter defending the complaints in early November, more than a month after the last one arrived at Franklin County.

The writer said the goal was to highlight fraud and embezzlement and blamed county officials for investigating the writer instead of the complaints.

“This is the true harassment, interviewing staff members. 99 percent of the staff members have nothing to do with any of it,” the anonymous writer said.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514