Local private eye indicted, allegedly stole $1.6 million

Charlene Joy Keys ran a private investigation business in Enumclaw until 2014, helping clients around the country collect money owed to them through bankruptcy courts. According to the Department of Justice, she committed mail fraud at least five times, keeping more money than she was owed.

Former Enumclaw private investigator Charlene Joy Keys, 70, has been indicted on five counts of mail fraud.

According to United States Attorney Annette Hayes, a grand jury came up with the indictment on March 15, alleging Keys — through her company Keys Research — defrauded her clients and wrongfully obtained more than $1.6 million.

The indictment alleges Keys would search federal bankruptcy proceedings around the country, looking for people and businesses who were owed money.

She would then make contact, saying she would help them recover the money they were owed for a commission of between 20 to 25 percent.

However, “Keys defrauded her clients by failing to pay over all or a portion of the recovered funds contrary to the terms of the parties’ agreements,” the indictment reads, adding that the $1.6 million Keys obtained was mixed with funds associated with her horse breeding business, Award Thoroughbreds.

After receiving a check from various bankruptcy courts around the country, Keys or others acting on her behalf would allegedly tell her clients their funds were being delayed, not released by the courts, or no longer available, and gave false responses or no response when her clients asked about the status of their funds.

If Keys is convicted, the Department of Justice is looking to recover the $1.6 million, as well as any other property or money related to mail fraud.

According to U.S. Attorney’s Office Public Affairs Officer Emily Langlie, no lawyer for Keys has filed a notice of appearance.

“A bench warrant has been issued for Keys arrest on the indictment,” Langlie said. “Once she is located she will have an initial appearance and be arraigned on the indictment – at that time she will enter a plea.”

Keys Research, founded in September 1996, is no longer in operation. Keys’ license was revoked April 2014, according to Department of Licensing spokeswoman Christine Anthony, after the department determined she violate state law.

In a DOL findings of fact document outlining charges against Keys, there were incidents of her withholding money owed to her clients two additional times not detailed in the grand jury indictment.

In one case, it took Keys more than one year and six months to return her client’s money, long past the 120 days she was supposed to return the money outlined in her contract, the document alleges.

In the other, Keys kept the money, claiming the bankruptcy court refused her claim and she never received the money, although records show Keys deposited the money into her bank account.

The DOL can only take disciplinary action against licensees, Anthony said, and doesn’t have the jurisdiction to force a licensee to make restitutions.

Langlie said, “The earlier conduct is considered part of the scheme to defraud and thus evidence of that conduct could be presented in court as evidence of the scheme, and ultimately if convicted the defendant can be held accountable for that loss as part of the restitution.”

The Washington Department of Revenue said Thoroughbred Awards closed in September 2014.

The Courier-Herald contacted Keys the morning of March 26. She said she was unaware of the indictment or warrant for her arrest, and declined to comment further.

Keys said she currently did not have a lawyer.

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