Former vet bookkeeper sentenced in theft

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Courts Reporter

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The former bookkeeper for a Vancouver veterinary clinic who stole more than $40,000 to fund her own business was handed down a six-month sentence Thursday, though she may serve that time through the jail’s work release program.

Rae Ellyn Alexander, 50, of Vancouver pleaded guilty in March in Clark County Superior Court to first-degree theft and forgery. She embezzled approximately $41,530.77 from Columbia Veterinary Center in Hazel Dell between July 2014 and January 2016, court records show. She will have to pay that amount back in restitution.

Alexander apparently took the money to help fund the opening of her own business, Celestial Balance Body Products in downtown Vancouver.

“I was supportive of her dream to open her own store,” the vet clinic’s owner, Dr. Tammy Cleveland, told the court Thursday. “Friends of mine and I went to her business and helped her with painting, hanging shelves, putting in a wall and setting up product. We celebrated her grand opening with her. … All the while, she was financing her endeavors with money she was stealing from me. She was buying supplies with stolen money. She was paying her employee with stolen money. And, she was walking into my business every day, smiling and pretending to care about the staff, all the while she was stealing money.”

Cleveland said apart from the betrayal, the theft obviously set her back financially. It complicated her purchase of the property her clinic sits on and delayed construction plans.

Judge Scott Collier told Alexander that he doesn’t have a high level of confidence she will pay the restitution. He believes the theft would have continued, he said, if she hadn’t been caught and fired.

However, he ordered that Alexander can serve her sentence through partial confinement in order to get a jump start on paying back the money. The jail’s work release program allows inmates to work outside in the community and be confined when they’re not working. If she doesn’t qualify, Alexander will instead serve four months of jail time.

According to an affidavit of probable cause, Alexander was a part-time bookkeeper for the veterinary clinic, 5106 N.E. 78th St., and stole cash and products and manipulated timecards for about a 1 1/2 years.

Cleveland told the court that she noticed discrepancies in her business books after two clients reported that their checks for services hadn’t cleared their accounts. She said that upon further investigation, she discovered deposits missing from the office, including whole deposit books and altered deposit slips.

“This was the start of a journey I never imagined I would be on,” Cleveland said.

Apart from Cleveland, the only other person who had access to the office containing the financial files, books and accounting programs was Alexander. When Cleveland confronted her about the discrepancies, Alexander admitted to the theft but initially said she only stole about $7,000 to $8,000, the affidavit states.

Cleveland showed investigators an explanation of the theft in her accounting programs compared to her physical deposit slips and online banking statements. She provided information from her records of the ongoing thefts of cash, use of the business credit card account and of her signature being obtained for business checks made directly to Alexander, the affidavit said. Alexander would have Cleveland sign blank company checks, giving an alternate reason, and then make them out to herself. She was also making additions to orders and independent orders from supply stores. Many times, she would pick up the orders so they wouldn’t be sent to the clinic, according to court documents.

Alexander admitted to investigators that she stole the money, though she told them the amount was about $14,000. She said she wanted to pay back Cleveland and had taken the money due to financial troubles after opening her own business, court records state.

“I’m so very sorry,” Alexander told the court. “I don’t know why I did it and to the extent I did it.”

She said she’s been in therapy, “trying to understand how I let this happen.”