Updated with statement from Lepiane's attorney.
WALLA WALLA — Former Walla Walla County Undersheriff Carole Lepiane has been charged in federal court with embezzling funds from the Sheriff’s Office.
According to information filed in U.S. District Court in Spokane, Lepiane allegedly stole more than $67,000 in funds between early 2004 and mid-2009. The charge of one count of theft from a federally funded local agency was filed Sept. 19 by Michael C. Ormsby, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington.
Despite the charge being filed Sept. 19, FBI Supervising Senior Agent Frank Harrill said last week he had “no new public information” to release on the case.
Lepiane is scheduled to appear in federal court in Spokane Thursday for a change of plea hearing, according to online court records. She pleaded innocent on Sept. 26 at her initial appearance in federal court in Yakima and was released on her own recognizance.
“Carole Lepiane is very sorry for the trouble she has caused her family, her former employer and Walla Walla County. She hopes to make amends,” her lawyer, Michael de Grasse, said in a statement issued Monday.
Her husband, College Place Police Chief Dennis Lepiane, said Monday that he had no comment on the case and referred questions de Grasse.
The criminal charge stems from an investigation that began in October 2009 when then-Sheriff Mike Humphreys requested the Washington State Patrol look into possible financial improprieties in the sheriff’s office. Along with the WSP and the state Auditor’s Office, the FBI also became involved last year.
According to the information filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Carole Lepiane used her position to embezzle cash funds that were posted for inmates’ bail. The thefts occurred between approximately February 2004 to June of 2009.
The scheme involved Lepiane using checks the Sheriff’s Office received from Evercom, the company that operated the phone system used by jail inmates. As part of the contract with Evercom, the jail received checks from the company on a monthly basis for the county’s share of the profits from inmate phone calls.
“When Evercom checks would arrive in the mail at the jail, the jail captain hand delivered the checks to the (Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office) and gave the checks to Lepiane or left them in her box,” the criminal information stated. “The Evercom checks should have been deposited into the WWCSO Depository bank account.”
“The funds from the Evercom checks should have been transferred to the Inmate Welfare Fund maintained by the (county) Treasurer, since the funds were generated by inmates. Lepiane was responsible for depositing the Evercom checks into the sheriff’s account,” the charging document said.
Instead, federal officials charge that Lepiane took money from cash posted for defendants charged in Superior and District courts that was brought to the Sheriff’s Office by a jail employee and would insert an Evercom check into the deposit for the amount of cash bail stolen in order to hide the theft of funds.
“As a result, the Evercom checks were not deposited in the WWCSO Depository account and were not contributed to the Inmate Welfare Fund,” the charging document said. “Using this scheme, Lepiane embezzled approximately $67,145.63 from Walla Walla County.”
The thefts occurred on at least 50 occasions between February 2004 and June of 2009, according to the charging document. Lepiane “used the stolen funds to make numerous cash deposits into her personal bank account and also pay for personal online shopping purchases.”