State auditor: ex-licensing agent misused $41,744

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State Auditor Brian Sonntag released a report Tuesday on a fraud investigation concerning a former vehicle licensing subagent, the Vancouver Market Center Auto License.

The owner of the subagent business, Patricia A. Bazurto of Washougal, pleaded guilty this year to first-degree theft, a felony, and has completed her sentence of 44 days on work crew, according to Clark County Superior Court records.

In April 2011, a county employee in the auditor’s office noticed a discrepancy in deposit slips filed by Bazurto. A subsequent county investigation determined $21,212 was missing. The state’s audit concluded the total misappropriation was $41,744.

The difference, according to the state audit, was the county did not include 13 transactions in its reported loss because Bazurto came forward with the missing transactions after the county suspended her license but prior to her arrest.

‘Internal controls … not adequate’

Vehicle licensing subagents are private enterprises that contract with the county to license vehicles and boats on behalf of the county and the state Department of Licensing. The offices are supported by customer service fees and monitored by the county auditor’s office.

“Internal controls at the county were not adequate to safeguard public resources,” according to Sonntag’s report. “The county did not require the subagent to submit bank-validated deposit slips to verify the actual deposit.”

Instead, according to an affidavit of probable cause written by a detective with the Vancouver Police Department, Bazurto had an ongoing scheme to cover cash shortages. “Patricia withheld cash and juggled and misappropriated dealership checks to make up the missing balance,” wrote Detective Barbara Knoeppel.

Bazurto created two sets of bank deposit slips and filed the fraudulent slip with the county auditor’s office, Knoeppel wrote.

“She admitted that she did not always deposit cash from a given day as required,” Knoeppel wrote. “She also admitted to creating the fraudulent deposit slips to cover her tracks. She attributed any daily shortages to confusion brought on by medical issues that affected her memory and ability to concentrate. She denied taking or borrowing any cash for personal use at any time.”

Bazurto, 48, had no prior criminal history.

‘Improved its procedures’

In 2007, the county issued a letter of reprimand because she was mixing personal money with vehicle licensing fees.

A restitution hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 8 in Clark County Superior Court.

Prosecutors will recommend Bazurto pay $58,877, which includes the cost for county and state staff members to work on the investigation.

Her former bond company, RLI Surety of Peoria, Ill., has been billed.

According to the state audit, “immediately following discovery of this misappropriation, the county’s Auto Licensing department improved its procedures to monitor compliance of subagents with their contract and the Department of Licensing procedures. The county’s improved procedures have been effective in safeguarding the public’s assets.”

The county has contracts with nine other vehicle licensing subagents.


Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.