An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Washington State Issues Report In Spokane County Fraud Case

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

The Washington state auditor’s office is recommending Spokane County improve its oversight of payments made to third parties who file claims.

The auditor issued a report today [Thursday] in a case involving a former Spokane County employee who was responsible for falsified checks worth more than a million dollars over a ten-year period.

County Auditor Vicky Dalton says this detective story began last August when her office was going through some uncashed claims checks and contacting the people to whom the checks were issued. When they called one woman, they found out she’d never filed a claim against the county and, therefore, never received a check. So they found the name of the claims technician responsible for processing that check and began investigating.

“We requested additional information from our computer system going back to the year 2000 and we reviewed all the transactions that that particular individual had been responsible for," Dalton said.

That former employee’s name hasn’t been released.

The county brought in the state auditor’s office to help with the investigation. County risk management director Steve Bartel says they found that, during a 10-year-period, the claims technician steered nearly one-point-four million dollars in made-up claims to herself.

“She used family members, personal acquaintances for the claimants’ names. She falsified documents as far as creating the backup information to support a payment under that claim. She created fake settlement and release documents," Bartel said.

And she was good enough to get away with it. She was fired by the county last May, for reasons unrelated to this, about three months before her misdeeds were discovered.

Spokane city detectives are now investigating her case. The state auditor said the former employee initially agreed to talk with her office, but never responded to requests for a meeting.

Bartel says the county has since tightened up its procedures and controls so that fewer people can authorize claims checks.

“This is certainly a huge black mark and it frustrates the hell out of all of us," he said.

He says the county will seek restitution to replace the money that went missing.