May 23 editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional interviews and quotes from the trial not published in the online version published May 19. The article has been updated.
Who are Allan and Joann Thomas — conspirators who used fake invoices, forged signatures, and lax county oversight to allegedly steal more than $450,000 from Enumclaw taxpayers? Or hard-working, albeit techno-illiterate, farmers caught in the crosshairs of greedy land developers?
A jury has decided the former.
The Enumclaw couple were charged with one count of conspiracy, four counts of mail fraud, four counts of wire fraud, two counts of aggravated identity theft, and four counts of money laundering in 2020 after a lengthy investigation that started in Enumclaw, but spiraled out to King County, the Washington State Auditor’s Office, and finally, the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Courier-Herald has detailed how the investigation unfolded in numerous articles leading up to the trial. In short, Allan Thomas, as a commissioner of a special taxing district called Drainage District 5 (DD5), and his wife Joann, allegedly sent fake invoices to King County for work that was never done 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.
Closing arguments began May 18, and wrapped up by noon the following day.
The verdict was read at 4:30 p.m. after mere hours of debate, finding Joann Thomas guilty of all charges, and her husband guilty of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and one count of identity theft; Allan was found not guilty of the second count of identity theft, nor money laundering.
Sentencing was scheduled for Sept. 23 at 9 a.m.
Both Allan and Joann declined to comment; Allan’s attorney, John Henry Browne, only stated that this was a “weird verdict,” and Joann’s attorney, Terrence Kellogg, said they were “deeply disappointed.”
Unsurprisingly, prosecutors — who included Andrew Friedman and Justin Arnold — were pleased with the verdict.
As to why Joann was found guilty of more charges, Friedman said the Thomases had different roles, and it was hers to be in charge of bank accounts and signing checks.
It’s unclear what sort of sentence the Thomases will receive, but Friedman said they will definitely be sentenced to at least two years incarceration, since aggravated identity theft comes with a mandatory minimum; although Joann was found guilty of two counts, she will not serve consecutive years, the DOJ confirmed.
“After that, the judge will have discretion,” Friedman said.
Prosecution plans to ask for full restitution — all $468,165 taken from DD5 residents, estimated to be around 600 property owners. Whether or not the Thomases have that much money to repay is unclear.
It’s also unclear exactly how restitution will work in regards to where that money will go — options may include back to taxpayers, since they paid taxes for work that was never done in DD5, or funneled to the drainage district itself to pay for future ditch maintenance.
CLOSING ARGUMENTS: THE PROSECUTION
The U.S. government, represented by Friedman in its closing arguments, needed to prove that the Thomases not only committed the crimes they were accused of, but also that they knowingly committed those crimes — key for convictions of wire and mail fraud.
To convince the jury, the DOJ showcased several signatures that were forged, fraudulent DD5 meeting minutes, and, possibly most damning of all, the flow of money from King County into the Thomas’ personal and business bank accounts.
Witness testimony from Alex Thomas (Allan’s son) and Ken Olson (another former DD5 commissioner) showed there was work done on the DD5 ditches before 2012 — but little, if any, was performed for the next five years.
It was around 2012 when Alex Thomas, Allan’s son from a prior marriage, and Joann opened AC Services as a business that would do the ditch clearing for DD5.
Alex, on the witness stand, told the court that he did only a couple of jobs in 2012. But invoices sent to King County, claiming AC Services was doing work on ditches, continued through 2017.
Not only did Alex claim he didn’t do the work, but he also testified he left the farm between 2014 and 2016 to join the armed services, so he wasn’t even around to do the work.
There were 36 such invoices, Friedman said, totaling for more than $400,000.
On those invoices were two signatures, which was required to get tax dollars from King County: Allan’s, and that of Olson’s, but Olson testified he never signed those vouchers. There was no third commissioner at this time.
Friedman said it appeared these vouchers were created long after AC Services supposedly did ditch work, as the only evidence the FBI found of the vouchers existing were in a Public Disclosure Request made in 2017 for those documents, and not in any emails sent to King County when money was being requested by the drainage district.
Even the contract between DD5 and AC Services was fraudulent, Friedman said; a signature on one copy of the contract was from one Joann Copeland (Joann’s maiden name), rather than Alex, who supposedly ran the business.
Another copy of the contract was signed by Marjorie Miller, Joann’s mother, who had no connection with AC Services beyond the fact that the business was allegedly run out of her home, which Friedman claimed was never the case.
Friedman also showed the jury two checks, supposedly made out by Alex, taking money from the AC Services business bank account to give to the Thomases.
However, his signature was allegedly forged by Joann Thomas — to make this point, Friedman compared Alex’s supposed signature to Joann’s, showing that “Thomas” was written out in both cases almost identically.
As for the money, Friedman showed that when large amounts of money were deposited into AC Service’s bank account, it would quickly be moved elsewhere; either into the Thomas’ personal accounts, or withdrawn by Joann (either using her real signature, or forging her son’s).
The money would then go to various places; $18,000 to Quality Hay Company for cow feed, for example, and another $13,000 to Craft3, which appears to be a non-bank home and business loan lender located in Seattle.
By the end of his closing argument, Friedman addressed the defense’s claim that the Thomases didn’t conspire to commit crimes, but other parties, namely Enumclaw City Attorney Mike Reynolds, worked to frame the Thomases as criminals to take their 155 acre-plus farm.
He said the defense has provided no evidence of those claims — only speculation.
The Courier-Herald reached out to Reynolds for comment on the verdict; he declined via email.
John Henry Browne and Terrence Kellogg, who represented Allan and Joann respectively, continued to argue that the only reason their clients were sitting in the defendant’s seats was because of a conspiracy by Reynolds and others, like King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, who wanted the government to obtain the farm, likely to develop it into a high-end neighborhood and reap the property taxes.
Kellogg, who opened first, said work on DD5 ditches was in fact completed, and AC Services was properly reimbursed by King County.
This is in contrast to several witness testimonies, including current DD5 Commissioner Alan Predmore, who testified that when he was appointed to the position in 2019, the drainage district needed to do work on “practically everything,” Friedman said.
But the main point Kellogg made was that Allan and Joann were hardworking farmers who live an extremely busy life — “old school,” he said — who never had any intent to break the law, or any knowledge that they had, even if they did. The defendants’ testimonies were liberally peppered with statements like, “I’m a farmer, not a forger”, and anecdotes about how difficult it was for the Thomases — namely, Joann — to get used to submitting documents to King County and the sate Auditor’s office electronically.
He called the government’s arguments “all flash, no fire.”
As for the AC Services contract signed by Marorie Miller, Kellogg noted Joann claimed that at the time the contact was written up, she was also preparing many medical documents for her mother, who was in poor health, and she must have accidentally given the contract to her to sign — hence Marjorie’s name on the contract.
However, Allan’s testimony contradicted Joann’s at this moment.
“I would dispute that’s my mother-in-law’s signature,” he said while being cross-examined by the prosecution. “Alex was pretty flamboyant… we had a lot of strange girlfriends around the farm,” adding that one of them must’ve signed the contract.
Joann also said that she’s been a Copeland, not a Thomas, for most of her life, which is why she occasionally reverts back to signing her name as “Joann Copeland” on various documents and checks — a trick of the brain, and not evidence of fraud or deception.
Bad bookkeeping, Kellogg said, is not a crime; “These folks are maybe not perfect,” but they were doing “the best they could.”
Kellogg also attempted to convince the jury that Reynolds, Dunn, and even Alex and his birthmother, Pepe Terou, an Enumclaw resident, worked together to frame the Thomases to obtain their farm. He admitted that he had no proof of this conspiracy — after all, he said, he doesn’t have the same power or resources of the federal government — but that bad blood that already existed between those parties and the Thomases should give credence to the theory, enough to cast reasonable doubt on the government’s case.
Browne argued much of the same, urging the jury to keep in mind the “cloak of innocence” that surrounds U.S. citizens, and asking them to not presume the Thomases were guilty because they were sitting in the defendant’s chair.
“Making a mistake is not a crime,” he said.
Browne cast doubt on the government’s case by noting not who the DOJ brought to the stand as a witness, but who wasn’t. This includes the Enumclaw detective who initially investigated the Thomases after Reynolds alerted her to possible wrongdoing; Darrel Winston, owner of CityBiz, who supposedly performed work on ditches in 2018 and 2019 (he pled guilty of lying to investigators in late 2020); and a handwriting expert to compare Joann’s signature to the supposed signature of Alex.
“Excuse me, are you an expert in handwriting?” he rhetorically asked the prosecution. “No.”
He also pointed out the Thomases proved their innocence by voluntarily meeting with the state Auditor (which ultimately concluded taxpayer money was misused by the Thomases) during the investigation and admitting in testimony that they made mistakes while running the drainage district.
That’s how you know Allan and Joann were telling the truth, he said — because they admitted to actions that don’t make them look good.
Browne even went to far as to suggest the Thomases didn’t fit the profile of fraudsters and money launderers, since it didn’t appear they spent any of their ill-gotten goods on anything flashy.
“We’ve all been there, where there are criminal charges against people for theft, fraud… and the pictures of their houses look like Medina. They look like Bill Gates’ house. Their cars are Ferraris, Porches, and Cadillacs… they have Rolexes, they have Guccis,” he said. “Here, we’re talking about people who are — and I know they’re going to say I’m tugging on sympathy — we have people who are really salt-of-the-earth.”
He also furthered the idea that Reynolds, Dunn, and others used the media to legitimize the investigation into the Thomases.
“Fake news,” he said, adding that the use of the phrase was not an “endorsement of anybody.”
In closing, he asked the jury to not give in to the “awesome power” of the government.
“Which side are you on?” he said, quoting a song written by a relative of his. “Are you a fool of the government, or have you had it with government power?”
WHAT’LL HAPPEN TO THE FARM?
Central to the defense’s case was the Thomas’ farm, and that other parties wanted to acquire it for development. Reynolds is a prominent land owner in Enumclaw, and has been known over his tenure as Enumclaw’s city attorney to broker land deals. For example, he was instrumental in the city buying the land of a former middle school to turn into a park, and the plot right next to the QFC to turn into a memorial for veterans. An article written by the Courier-Herald reporting as much was even admitted as evidence during the trial in an attempt to show how Reynolds wanted to obtain the farm.
“If the government has their way, what do you think, what do you think that farm’s going to be in five years, or ten years?” Browne asked the jury. “It’s going to be an endless line of really ugly McMansions.”
But that argument was about as solid as building those McMansions on sand.
As it stands, King County owns the development rights of the Thomas’ 155-acre farmland through the Farmland Preservation Program, which began in 1979. In an effort to prevent the disappearance of unincorporated farmland, the county has purchased the development rights of more than 15,000 acres since the programs founding to be permanently protected, restricted only to agricultural or open space use.
In short — no McMansions could be built on that land so long as the FPP is alive and well, or if a majority of the entire county voted to turn over the development rights.
However, talk over social media claims the county is buying farmland to turn into wetland.
This is not the case, said Doug Williams, the county’s media relations coordinator.
“We are working diligently to increaseagricultural production in the county – especially on the 42,000 acres of farmland within our designated agricultural districts – to improve local economies and increase the availability of locally grown food for King County residents,” he wrote via email.
The Thomases sold the development rights of that farmland to the county in 1986.
As for the federal government forcing the Thomases to sell their farmland to pay restitution, it appears that won’t be able to happen; the couple appear to have already sold the vast majority of the land to DRK LLC in 2020 for $1.7 million, according to King County Assessor records.