“Milking the community”.
That’s how U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones described local dairy farmer and former Drainage District 5 Commissioner Allan Thomas’ conduct for his part in a scheme to defraud Enumclaw taxpayers of more than $460,000.
After five years of investigation and trial, Thomas received a sentence of 30 months incarceration and three years of supervised release on Friday, Feb. 3, for being convicted of one count of conspiracy, four counts of mail fraud, four counts of wire fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft last spring.
That’s half a year less than his wife Joann, who was convicted of the same crimes, plus another count of aggravated identity theft and two counts of money laundering. The additional convictions, plus a prior criminal history, was why she ended up with a heavier sentence, Jones said during the latest hearing.
ANOTHER (VERY) ABRIDGED SUMMARY
The Courier-Herald has laid out the Thomas’ crimes in detail in several previous articles, but the gist is that Allan, as a commissioner of a special taxing district called Drainage District 5 (DD5), and Joann sent fake invoices to King County for work that was never done on about 18 miles of drainage ditches between at least 2012 and 2019; instead, they pocketed those taxpayer dollars to pay bills and property taxes on Thomas Dairy, located on the east side of Enumclaw on state Route 410.
An investigation started in 2017 when Enumclaw’s then-City Attorney Mike Reynolds requested public documents from the Thomases regarding the District’s bills — requests that were not fulfilled on time, prompting suspicion of wrongdoing.
The Enumclaw Police Department investigated first, finding that the Thomases used a dummy company to create fake invoices, and that bank records showed money paid to the company flowed into the Thomas’ bank accounts.
The Washington State Auditor also investigated, finding at least $413,000 in property taxes that were misappropriated, and another $66,000 in taxes used in “questionable” transactions.
By May 2019, Allan resigned as commissioner after holding the position for more than three decades; another commissioner, Kennet Olson — who was never charged, though he testified against Allan — also resigned.
The federal government became officially involved that July, with FBI agents raiding the Thomas’ home, spending hours removing documents.
The Thomases were charged September 2019 with one count of mail fraud, but additional charges were levied a year later.
SENTENCING REQUESTS, THOMAS SPEAKS
U.S. prosecutors asked Judge Jones to sentence both Allan and Joann to 72 months (six years) incarceration for their crimes.
That sentence, argued Andrew Friedman, would reflect how serious this case was, given that he believed Allan was the first public official to be prosecuted for corruption in the federal Western District of Washington in more than two decades and that a fraud of this magnitude harmed the “desperately-needed trust” in government that is currently lacking around the country.
“Even when he was caught… he and his wife continued the fraud,” Friedman continued. “To this day, it doesn’t appear he accepts responsibility.”
Thomas’ defense lawyers asked for two years, given the convictions of aggravated identity theft came with a two-year mandatory minimum sentence.
John Henry Browne, who represented Allan, argued before Jones that the money taken from DD5’s coffers wasn’t used lavishly, but “to maintain the farm” located off state Route 410 east of town — a fact that should be looked at in positive light.
“It wasn’t financing a high-end lifestyle,” he said.
He also noted that “50%” of the drainage ditches in DD5 are on the Thomas’ property, meaning some of the money Allan and Joann misappropriated was paid for through their own taxes.
“They paid taxes. They should get some credit for that,” he continued.
Allan himself addressed the allegation that he showed no remorse for his crimes, though he stopped short in admitting he purposefully broke the law.
“I’m very embarrassed that I let our community down,” he said. “We did a very poor job bookkeeping… I’m sorry I brought Enumclaw into a mess like this.”
After Allan finished speaking, Judge Jones got the last word before handing down the sentence, listing some of the things he thought were more serious aspects of this crime.
While Allan has no criminal history and did many good works in his community, Jones noted that this was not a one-time crime, nor was this accidental.
“This is all of an aggravated nature,” the judge said, noting that fake companies and fake invoices were created to give the impression that ditches work was being done. “This was a long-term scheme. This is not something that lasted for a short period of time… this was efforts by you and your spouse engage in repeated conduct for a total of seven years involving deception for a protracted period of time.”
He added that it doesn’t matter if the money that was stolen was used lavishly or not — all that matters was that he betrayed the trust of the people who elected him to that position by not using taxpayer money appropriately.
“You characterized that the work that you’ve done to try to help other members of the community as something that was noble, and I have no reason to question the help that you’ve done… or the work that you’ve done for the community,” Jones continued. “But the bottom line here is that there are members of the community who probably perceive your dairy farm as not just milking cows, but milking the community, because of what you did in continuing to take money you weren’t entitled to.”
While Allan and Joann have been sentenced, it is still unknown when they will serve their sentence — their defense attorneys have asked for staggered sentences, so one person would be incarcerated while the other was out on supervised released.
One reason was, Joann’s attorney Terrence Kellogg said, was so that Joann can continue to care for her husband’s poor health while he may be incarcerated.
Attorney Browne added last Friday that the Thomas’ farm is currently under contract to continue operating for the next two years, which at that point the commercial land can be sold and some of the proceeds used for restitution.
How much money the Thomases will have to pay back to DD5, King County, or taxpayers is also unknown, as a restitution hearing has been rescheduled to April 7. Prosecution has asked for full restitution of $468,165.63, but the defense has indicated they will argue for a lesser amount, perhaps given some of the taxpayer money was the Thomas’ to begin with.
Joann’s attorney has already appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, with a brief due by April 14. It’s also expected for Allan to submit an appeal.