Franklin County official Dennis M. Huston, 65, might have embezzled more than $1 million from the county over a decade, Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant alleged Friday.
Huston, the county's director of accounting and administration for the Public Works Department, has admitted to having a cocaine habit, according to documents filed in Franklin County Superior Court.
He made a preliminary appearance in court Friday, but Huston has not been charged. He is being held on $500,000 bail while an investigation continues on suspicion of first-degree theft, money laundering and possession of cocaine.
After a similar investigation in Montana in 1986, Huston served time on a federal charge of theft of government money, Sant said in court as he argued for bail to be set at $500,000. Facts still are being gathered in the current case, and no further information on the previous case was available Friday afternoon.
Now, Huston is accused of creating false invoices for Critzer Equipment, a company that closed in 2001. He had no association with the company when it operated.
But a search warrant used to obtain bank records showed he had a bank account as the proprietor of Critzer Equipment, Pasco police Officer Dave Yates wrote in the court documents.
Yates interviewed Huston on Wednesday at the Pasco Police Department, and Huston told Yates he had received more than $5,000 from invoices that led to money being deposited into the bank account he had access to, said court documents.
Huston said he was using the money for narcotics and showed Yates a small black leather bag containing what appeared to be cocaine, a straw and a hard plastic card, said court documents.
He also had a blank check for the Critzer Equipment account, court documents showed.
The prosecutor asked for bail to be set at $500,000, saying Huston is a flight risk because he likely has assets of more than $1 million, but it is not known where the assets are. He also has a criminal history, is near retirement age and has little reason to return to court if his assets are accessible, Sant said.
Huston said he did not have money for a lawyer, and attorney Matt Rutt was appointed at least temporarily as a public defender.
Huston owns real estate and a vehicle, and he will have to show he qualifies for a public defender.
Rutt argued that Huston is a longtime resident of the community, belongs to a Pasco church and has family in the area. A bail of $500,000 normally is set in a murder case, but Huston is accused of a property crime, Rutt said.
He requested bail be set at $75,000 to $100,000.
"The allegations are extremely serious," said Judge Carrie Runge, before setting bail at $500,000.
Huston, who has worked for the county since 1989, appeared in court wearing striped jail garb.
If Huston does not post bail, he must be charged by Tuesday afternoon or released from jail.
The charges would be filed by the state Attorney General's Office to prevent a conflict of interest by Franklin County officials.
The criminal investigation will include a review of computer hard drives and other electronic information to collect evidence, which could be time-consuming, Sant said.
Huston was one of nine county employees put on administrative leave Thursday as part of an investigation into the theft of public funds. He is the only one on unpaid leave and the only one to be arrested.
There is no indication of wrongdoing by the people who are on paid leave, said Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck.
The investigation into the misappropriation of funds began about two weeks ago after it was discovered during an internal audit by the county Auditor's Office, said Auditor Matt Beaton.
It was immediately reported to the state Auditor's Office and the state Attorney General's Office, he said. In addition to investigations being conducted by state offices, a separate internal county investigation also is being conducted.
On Thursday, Pasco police searched Huston's home in Pasco and served search warrants at the county's Public Works building, removing computers and several file boxes.