Oct. 12, 2012 - Story has been updated with more details. Click on the "As of" date above to view previous versions.
SPOKANE — Former Walla Walla County Undersheriff Carole Lepiane is expected to serve prison time for stealing tens of thousands of dollars in inmate bail funds.
Lepiane’s guilty plea Thursday in federal court brought to a close a three-year-old investigation into embezzlement at the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office.
At a hearing in U.S. District Court before Senior Judge Fred Van Sickle, Lepiane pleaded guilty to one count of theft from a federally funded local agency. Van Sickle ordered a presentencing report to be prepared and allowed Lepiane to remain free on her own recognizance.
Van Sickle scheduled sentencing for Jan. 10 at the federal courthouse in Richland.
Under the terms of a plea agreement, Lepiane is expected to be ordered to serve 10 months of confinement — six in a federal facility followed by four in a halfway house — when she’s sentenced.
Lepiane also is expected pay $81,271.63 in restitution, which includes $67,1435.63 she stole over five years at the Sheriff’s Office, and $14,126 paid by the county to the state Auditor’s Office as part of the investigation. Lepiane told Van Sickle that the funds have already been paid to her attorney and put into a trust account
At Thursday’s hearing, Lepiane was accompanied by her attorney, Michael de Grasse of Walla Walla. As they left the courtroom, de Grasse said neither had any further comment on the case.
Lepiane used a walker as she entered and left the courtroom, but stood unassisted as she went through the plea agreement with Van Sickle. During questioning about her understanding of the plea agreement, she told Van Sickle she was taking prescription medications, but said those had not affected her ability to communicate with her attorney.
According to charging documents filed in September by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Lepiane embezzled cash that was posted for inmates’ bail. The thefts occurred between approximately February 2004 to June 2009.
At an appearance in U.S. District Court in Yakima on Sept. 26, Lepiane pleaded innocent to the charge. Thursday’s court hearing was to allow her to change her plea to guilty.
Lepiane told Van Sickle she had been employed as undersheriff from 1998 to mid-2009. “June (2009) is when I became ill and did not return,” she said.
The investigation into the thefts started in October 2009 when then-Sheriff Mike Humphreys requested the Washington State Patrol look into possible financial improprieties in his office. Along with the WSP and state Auditor’s Office, the FBI also become involved in the investigation last year.
Humphreys said Thursday he had no comment on the case. He referred questions to county Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle.
In an email, Nagle declined to comment.
“While the case is pending in court, it is inappropriate for the County to comment on the case, and it may affect the rights of the parties. The county may be able to answer questions if and when the case is finally resolved,” Nagle wrote.
He added that the case was being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office with the consent and at the request of Nagle’s office to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest in prosecuting a fellow county official.
College Place Mayor Rick Newby said the case is not expected to affect the employment of Lepiane’s husband, Dennis, as College Place police chief.
“Based on the investigation, it appears Mrs. Lepiane acted alone, and no allegations against others have been made. Chief Lepiane has served our community with honor and integrity for many years, and I have every confidence he will continue to do so as we move forward,” Newby said in a statement.
Dennis Lepiane was not in court for Thursday’s hearing.