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Pasco man sentenced in largest public sector embezzlement case in Washington state history
Franklin County Superior Court Judge Vic L. VanderSchoor sentenced Dennis Merle Huston of Pasco, Wash., to 16 years today after Huston pled guilty to a complicated embezzlement scheme involving millions of dollars dating back to March 1990. The case is the largest public embezzlement case in state history, according to the state auditor.
The Washington Attorney General’s Office charged the former Franklin County employee with Theft in the First Degree and Money Laundering for stealing more than $2.8 million from Franklin County between 1996 and 2013 when he was charged. They were unable to quantify amounts stolen between 1990 and 1996 due to lack of county records. They also charged him with possession of cocaine.
“This sentence sends a clear message that theft of public funds will not go undetected and that thieves will pay,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “This case is an example of state agencies and local law enforcement working together to investigate and prosecute public corruption.”
The Franklin County Auditor’s Office discovered the scheme. The Pasco Police Department and the State Auditor’s Office investigated the crime. The Attorney General’s Office received the request for assistance from the Franklin County Prosecutor due to a potential conflict. Washington State Assistant Attorney General Scott Marlow and Senior Investigator Gregg Mixsell handled the case for the Attorney General’s office.
The former Franklin County Public Works director for administration and accounting admitted that, from March 1990 to February 2012, he fraudulently submitted invoices and payment requests for Critzer Equipment Company, then deposited the money into a company bank account he had opened.
The county processed invoices and payments even after November 2001, when the legitimate business closed down. In some cases, Franklin County made two to three payments of $4,000 to $9,000 a month. When investigators notified the former owner of Critzer Equipment Company, he told them his company wasn’t involved in selling parts typically used by a county public works department.
The Franklin County Auditor’s Office discovered the possible fraud in January 2012 while reviewing the paperwork of Franklin County vendors. The Pasco Police Department started an investigation and obtained a search warrant for the bank records of the Critzer Equipment Company business account. A signature card showed Huston as the sole proprietor of Doyle BR/Critzer Equipment.
Investigators found numerous withdrawals from ATMs, payments to Huston’s credit card accounts using checks from the Doyle BR/Critzer bank account, and payments to Huston as cash. Investigators say Huston’s signature was on all the checks. At the end of January, when another check came through for approval, surveillance video showed Huston making a deposit at the bank holding the Critzer Equipment Company business account.
Officers arrested Huston on Feb. 2, 2012, at the Franklin County Public Works building. Investigators say he admitted to creating the Critzer Equipment Company vouchers on his office computer, forging the initials of others to indicate the vouchers had been approved and the parts received and submitting the vouchers. Huston told investigators he used the money to buy cocaine and gamble at a local casino.
Police found suspected cocaine among personal items taken from him upon his arrest and sent it to the State Patrol Crime Lab in Kennewick where testing confirmed the substance as cocaine. Huston admitted the cocaine was on his person at the time of the arrest.