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News / Clark County News

Woman gets year in prison in $400,000 theft from employer

Vancouver resident was manager of property firm Grimm Enterprises

By Jerzy Shedlock, Columbian Breaking News Reporter
Published: February 12, 2019, 7:25pm

A 60-year-old woman who formerly managed Vancouver-based Grimm Enterprises was sentenced Tuesday in Clark County Superior Court to a year in prison for bilking the property business out of more than $400,000.

Debra A. Ingalls of Vancouver pleaded guilty last month to a single count of first-degree theft. Court records show she originally faced two counts.

“(Ingalls) had our trust. She was treated like family, so much so that she was added as a trustee” to the company, said Lisa Sorenson, who is also a trustee of Grimm Enterprises along with her stepmother, Carolyn Grimm.

The business is owned by the trust and manages more than 70 residential and commercial properties in the Vancouver area, including Club Green Meadows. All of the properties are owned by Carolyn Grimm, whose husband Joseph Grimm oversaw the company’s operations until his death in 2010. When Joseph Grimm died, Carolyn Grimm handed over responsibilities to the company’s managers; she told investigators she is no longer involved due to her age, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

In December 2014, Ingalls was injured when “a carport at one of Grimm’s rental properties hit her in the head during a windstorm,” the probable cause affidavit says. She was in a coma for two weeks.

Sorenson and another witness in the case, Heather Carney, went to Grimm’s office while Ingalls was gone to run the business.

“She said that they discovered the office was in complete disarray,” the affidavit says.

There was no system in place for tracking payments, deposits or other rental-related documents. Sorenson and Carney started logging rent payments and discovered a substantial number of tenants were paying in cash. They also discovered no cash had been deposited in 2014, according to the probable cause affidavit.

That’s when Sorenson decided to hire Acuity Forensics. The financial investigator determined Grimm Enterprises had suffered losses of $416,702 as a result of a cash-skimming scheme carried out by Ingalls.

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On Tuesday, Deputy Prosecutor Jessica Smith recommended a 366-day sentence following extensive negotiations. Smith said the embezzled amount listed in the charge is likely conservative.

Ingalls also agreed to pay restitution; a $200,000 check was handed over during the sentencing hearing.

“Ms. Ingalls abused her position of trust and the vulnerability of the victim,” Smith said.

Sorenson told Judge Bernard Veljacic that Carolyn Grimm’s health has worsened since the discovery of Ingalls’ theft.

“My stepmother kept beating herself up about why (Ingalls) would do this to her,” Sorenson said. “She said many times that she didn’t understand why Debbie would do it, and if she really needed the money she just could have asked me.”

Defense attorney David McDonald said his client’s actions were more a matter of gross mismanagement than criminal intent.

“She wasn’t keeping track appropriately. … Her record-keeping was, at best, atrocious,” McDonald said.

Once the missing money was discovered, Ingalls admitted to wrongdoing and has worked in the years since to reach a resolution.

Veljacic said whether Ingalls was a bad manager or willfully stealing, there were multiple reasons she deserved to be punished. Society, friends and family expect people to come forward themselves and accept responsibility for their errors, he said.

He accepted the plea agreement and called a courthouse deputy to take Ingalls to the Clark County Jail. She will later be transferred to a state prison for female inmates.

Ingalls decided not to speak during her sentencing hearing.

Columbian Breaking News Reporter