Former Skamania County auditor faces felony charges

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: December 20, 2011, 7:57 PM

 

After two years of uncertainty, an embattled former Skamania County auditor has been charged with two felonies relating to allegations that he shredded public documents showing him racking up thousands of dollars of questionable public expenses.

Charged on Friday with two counts of injury to public record, J. Michael Garvison, 40, was summoned to make his first appearance in Skamania County Superior Court on Jan. 12.

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The charges allege that between Jan. 1, 2009, and Feb. 28, 2009, Garvison “did willfully and unlawfully remove, alter, mutilate, destroy, conceal or obliterate a record … filed or deposited in a public office,” according to court documents.

Investigators said Garvison ordered his staff to destroy the records, though the state does not permit destroying the records within a six-year retention period.

The records in question were vouchers that showed Garvison’s expenditures in 2003 and 2004. A state audit had found Garvison used thousands of dollars in public money for unauthorized travel, education and office equipment expenses over four years as the county’s elected auditor.

The unauthorized expenses included 13 out-of-state trips, including two conferences in Florida and one in Las Vegas. For 2008 and 2009, he had allegedly billed the county for about $83,000 worth of trips.

Garvison resigned his county job in November 2009, shortly after news of his expenditures became public. He took a job as chief financial officer with the Clackamas County Soil and Water Conservation District in Oregon City, Ore.

According to Oregon media reports, Garvison was laid off from the position in August. It’s not immediately clear where he lives now — a Clackamas Review article indicated his wife accepted a job in Ohio this summer. Attempts to reach Garvison or his Vancouver-based attorney, Jon McMullen, Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Friday’s filing of charges came after two years in limbo. The Skamania County Sheriff’s Office conducted a five-month investigation of Garvison in 2009 and forwarded reports to then-Skamania County Prosecutor Peter Banks. Banks, however, declined prosecution because of a conflict of interest.

The case was referred to the state attorney general’s office, which offered Garvison a plea deal in 2010 to a gross misdemeanor charge of official misconduct. The plea deal meant that Garvison could pay restitution and, later, have the charge erased from his record.

Upset at the plea deal, the Skamania County Board of Commissioners voted last year to bring the case back to Skamania County, as a new prosecutor, Adam Kick, was set to take office in January. The attorney general’s office subsequently dismissed charges, referring the case back to the Skamania County Prosecutor’s Office.

A new conflict

Kick started reviewing the case when he took office. However, the new prosecutor said Tuesday that he realized he also had a conflict of interest, as he knew employees who worked with Garvison, and could be called as witnesses at trial.

Kick asked the Yakima County prosecutor, Jim Hagarty, and a Spokane-based private attorney, David Trefry, who specializes in contract prosecution, to take on the case. The two attorneys started reviewing the case last spring, Kick said.

“It took a few months to find someone willing to take the case,” he said.

The charge, injury to public record, is an unranked Class C felony that carries a sentencing range of zero to 12 months in jail. Asked why Garvison wasn’t charged for the alleged unauthorized expenses, Kick said he could only speculate: The alleged shredding of documents was a stronger case, and that charge is a felony, compared to official misconduct, relating to the expenditures, which is a gross misdemeanor.

Attempts to reach Hagarty or Trefry on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Garvison was not arrested. Through his attorney, he agreed to appear in court in Stevenson, Kick said.

Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts; www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker; laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.