Editor’s note: After this article was published, the court granted the Thomases and the Department of Justice a continuance of the trial date, pushing it back to May 11, 2020. The DOJ expects to file more charges. The article has been updated.
A court date has been set for Enumclaw residents Allan and Joann Thomas for allegedly stealing more than $460,000 from local taxpayers.
The couple were officially charged with mail fraud at the end of September, but a grand jury indicted the Thomases on Oct. 23, and they were arraigned on Halloween, pleading not guilty.
The indictment contains no new information, outlining how the Thomases allegedly used Allan’s position as the commissioner of Drainage District 5 — a small special purpose tax district that collects revenue from roughly 600 Enumclaw residents to maintain 18 miles of drainage ditches — to set up sham companies and keep up the pretense that ditch maintenance work was being done, when in fact taxpayer dollars were going straight into their pockets.
A jury trial is tentatively scheduled for May 11, 2020, with Western District of Washington Judge Richard A. Jones.
But another legal shadow looms over the Thomases — whether or not they violated state election law, an issue the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is still considering charges for, a spokesperson said.
Under Washington state rules, special purpose tax district elections are operated differently than city or county elections.
While most local governments run their elections through their county elections department (like King County Elections), special purpose tax districts with more than 500 residents residing in their jurisdictions can run their own elections, which includes posting in a local newspaper a notice of an election filing period and where a potential candidate can file their intent to run for a commissioner position.
But even if a special purpose tax district runs its own elections, it “must enter into an agreement with the county auditor that specifies the responsibilities of both parties” during an election, RCW 85.38.125 reads, and King County Elections’ Chief of Staff Kendall Hodson said her department has never coordinated with the Thomases for an election.
Additionally, unlike other elections, if no one files for their candidacy, special purpose tax districts are not required to hold an election — the incumbent is automatically re-elected.
This, combined with the fact that it appears many Enumclaw residents didn’t realize they had not one, but three, drainage districts in and around their city could partly explain how Thomas remained in his elected position since 1988, which was when the last election appears to have been held.
But it also appears Allan Thomas failed to properly notice his constituents of elections.
According to state law, residents of special purpose tax districts must file their intent to run for office between thirty and sixty days before a general election, which are required to be on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in February every even-numbered year; that would roughly mean the filing period is December on odd-numbered years.
To properly post notice of this filing period, Drainage District 5 would have had to publish a filing period notice in a local paper “at least seven days prior to the closing of the filing period,” RCW 85.38.120 reads.
But between 2010 and 2018, the Enumclaw Courier-Herald only found two notices regarding upcoming elections; one in February 2010, and another in July 2012; no records were available prior to 2010.
The notices read, “Notice is hereby given that Drain District 5… is seeking candidates to serve on the Board of Commissioners,” and requests any letters of interest be sent to the Thomas’ home address at Thomas Farms in Enumclaw.
So while Drainage District 5 correctly posted notices during even-numbered years, the 2010 February notice was two months too late for potential candidates to file for the election that was supposed to happen that month, and the July 2012 notice was early by roughly a year and a half, since the next election would come February 2014.