Crime

Tri-City case worker accused of using state credit card for home improvements, clothes

A Tri-City case worker is accused of using a state credit card to remodel her bathrooms and buy clothing and other items, some of which appeared to be pictured in her Facebook posts.

The credit card was intended to be used for emergencies or to improve safety for families participating in a program of the DSHS Family Assessment Response unit to provide child welfare services.

Erica Linne Dykeman, 34, is scheduled to appear Tuesday in Franklin County Superior Court on a charge of second-degree theft, a felony.

An investigation by the Washington State Patrol found $1,439 worth of merchandise bought with the credit card in her Pasco home and travel trailer.

The state patrol report said Dykeman allegedly admitted to making other purchases for her own use, including gasoline and perishable items, and items she gave to family members.

DSHS said she allegedly purchased upwards of $5,000 worth of items on a state credit card.

She is accused of using the state credit card for her own benefit from June 2015 to February 2016 and claiming the purchases went to seven families on her client list as part of her work as a social services specialist for the state. At least one of her clients said all her family had received was a referral to counseling.

The investigation was triggered when an auditor notified the Richland office in January that receipts for a credit card used by Dykeman and others were missing.

Case workers in the Richland office of the DSHS Family Assessment Response unit check out a credit card from a supervisor. They are required to return the credit card to the supervisor with documentation of what was purchased.

A supervisor went store to store to obtain the missing receipts and started looking at what was purchased.

One receipt was for a bookcase from Fred Meyer. The supervisor found a bookcase that appeared to match the receipt in a photo on Dykeman’s Facebook timeline.

The supervisor also saw ski gloves that she thought matched a state credit card receipt from Sporthaus and a bathroom light fixture that appeared to match a receipt from Lowe’s, according to the report.

The investigation found several items purchased for Dykeman’s bathrooms or other home improvements charged to the state credit card. They included two sets of vanity lights, two slow-close toilet seats, a ceiling light, a curtain rod, door stoppers and outlet covers.

They also recovered a console table and totes purchased at Fred Meyer, a Captain America shirt and leggings from JCPenney, two pairs of gloves and snow pants costing $229 from Sporthaus and clothing from Kohl’s, including a men’s University of Washington sweatshirt and women’s boots.

A video obtained from the Pasco Walmart showed her getting an oil change for her pickup, which matched a receipt on the state credit card, according to the report.

Investigators were unable to obtain video of gas purchases made with the state credit card to see if the gas went into the cars of state clients, according to the report.

Case workers in the Richland office of the DSHS Family Assessment Response unit check out a credit card from a supervisor and are required to return it with documentation of what it was used to buy.

The credit card was sometimes passed from one case worker to another without notifying the supervisor, and there were no safeguards to make sure the purchases went to families in need, the report said.

Dykeman was dismissed from her DSHS job on Sept. 6 after an investigation, according to DSHS. It said she had worked for DSHS for eight years and held her most recent position in the Richland office since 2014.

“We were very disturbed to learn of these allegations and we took immediate action to hold her accountable,” said Jennifer Strus, DSHS Children’s Administration assistant secretary, in a statement. “Our mission is to protect children and support families, and defrauding the taxpayers of Washington state certainly doesn’t contribute to that mission.”

The alleged credit card fraud appears to be an isolated incident, but the agency is reviewing its purchase card practices and policies to ensure checks and balances are in place across the state, according to DSHS.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews

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