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State auditors investigating ‘suspected loss of public funds’ in Spokane County

October 5, 2018

State auditors are investigating a “suspected loss of public funds” involving at least one Spokane County employee, officials confirmed Thursday.

An anonymous tipster this week alerted several local news outlets to the investigation, saying a large amount of taxpayer money had been stolen by an employee in the county’s risk management department. Officials would not say if the case involves suspected theft or embezzlement. The amount in question was not immediately clear.

County spokesman Jared Webley confirmed that the same risk management employee was terminated in May, though he declined to say if her firing was related to the auditors’ investigation. No charges have been filed against the employee.

Reached by phone Thursday, the employee confirmed she had left the position in May, but declined to comment further.

Webley said no other risk management employees have been fired or placed on administrative leave this year. He confirmed that Steve Bartel, the director of the risk management department, reported the suspected loss of funds to the state auditor’s office, as the county is required to do under state law.

Kathleen Cooper, a spokeswoman for the auditor’s office, said the county reported the suspected loss in late August.

“I can’t really go into more detail than that because we are still in the middle of our investigation,” Cooper said.

The auditor’s office often investigates fraud or “misappropriations” of public money in tandem with law enforcement agencies. Criminal charges stemming from such investigations are typically filed by county prosecutors.

Webley said the county also reported the situation through Spokane County’s Crime Check service, though it was not immediately clear if any law enforcement agency was investigating the matter.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he was aware of the auditors’ investigation but his department was not involved. Public information officers for the Spokane Police Department and the Washington State Patrol said their agencies weren’t looking into the matter, either.

A mission statement on the county’s website states that the risk management department exists “to reduce the frequency and severity of liability and worker compensation claims by providing efficient and timely claims adjudication services, comprehensive safety training and occupational health services.”

The risk management department works with the Washington Counties Risk Pool, an association of 26 of the state’s 39 counties that spreads out the cost of liability insurance. Derek Bryant, the executive director of the risk pool, said Thursday he had not been made aware of any public funds being misappropriated from the risk pool.

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