Prosecutor: No charges in case of missing Washougal money

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: June 7, 2012, 7:44 PM

 

Prosecutors hit the same snag as state auditors investigating missing revenue from city-sponsored events in Washougal: they have no evidence of what happened to more than $100,000 in 2008 and 2009.

Because of poor record-keeping and one company’s refusal to cooperate with a criminal investigation launched by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, prosecutors cannot determine if any public money was misused or misappropriated.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Tonya Rulli said the office received police reports in April from sheriff’s Detective Tom Mitchum, which recommended no prosecutorial action. Rulli then declined to prosecute and closed the case late last month.

“There just wasn’t enough information to file charges,” Rulli said.

Mitchum’s police report does fault the city for insufficient bookkeeping while collecting money for several city-sponsored community events, including Washougalfest 2008 and Riverfest 2009.

The city had no written agreements detailing payments and responsibilities with the main vendor, Columbia River Productions, or another group, Washougal Downtown Revitalization and Implementation Committee. Columbia River Productions declined numerous requests by auditors and sheriff’s investigators for interviews.

“The failure of the city of Washougal to enter into contracts with the vendors for these events is cause for concern also, but does not reach any level of criminal conduct,” the detective wrote.

The prosecutor’s decision is the latest in a case that’s spanned several years and contributed to the resignation of Washougal Mayor Stacee Sellers in fall 2009. Sellers came under fire after a Washington State Auditor’s Office audit showed about $100,000 of revenue from city-sponsored events was unaccounted for and criticized thousands of dollars in charges on city credit cards and gifts of city money.

Sean Guard, Washougal’s current mayor, had asked the sheriff’s office to conduct its own investigation following the audit’s findings. However, Mitchum said in his police reports that he ran into the same roadblocks as state auditors: Columbia River Productions did not respond to his requests for an interview. He also found that there was no documentation of where the revenue from the city’s events went.

A representative of Columbia River Productions retained a lawyer, and the detective was unable to obtain information through that attorney.

Per state law, all revenue collected during city-sponsored events should be deposited to the city. Auditors estimated Washougalfest and Riverfest should have brought in $100,000 to the city. The state audit, however, could not find any such deposits.

Mitchum noted that former mayor Sellers had told her staff not to worry about the money.

“The pattern set by the mayor was that no one was to question any expenditure for Washougalfest or Riverfest,” the detective wrote. “If an expenditure was approved by her, she expected it to be paid and not questioned.”

Sellers left town around the time of her 2009 resignation. According to her Linkedin page, she lives in Washington, D.C., and works as a real estate agent and massage therapist.

The city of Washougal has since implemented new, more efficient record-keeping methods and has hired a new finance director, Jennifer Forsberg, who was formerly the auditor’s office’s fraud investigator.

“Given what Ms. Forsberg investigated and found, she has also been the ideal individual to put policies and procedures in place that should keep any of this being repeated in the future,” Guard said Thursday by email. “Furthermore, our staff, from department directors on down, know that the mayor does not have the ability or power to circumvent the system in the first place. Proper agreements, contracts, etc., must be in place in order for payments to be made to anyone.”