Former county undersheriff begins sentence

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WALLA WALLA — A former Walla Walla County undersheriff who embezzled tens of thousands of dollars from the office has started serving her sentence.

Carole Lepiane reported to the Victorville Federal Correctional Complex in Adelanto, Calif., last week. Her release date is Sept. 11, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

The 58-year old Lepiane pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court late last year to embezzling $67,145.63 from the Sheriff’s Office over a five-year period. She was sentenced in January to serve six months in custody followed by four months in a residential re-entry center.

Lepiane was allowed to remain free until ordered to report by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to a facility. In addition to her prison sentence, she was also ordered to pay $81,271.63 in restitution, which was the amount stolen plus $14,126 paid by the county to the state Auditor’s Office as part of the investigation into the thefts. As a condition of her plea agreement, the full amount of restitution was paid into a trust account facilitated by her attorney and the money was turned over to the court when Lepiane was sentenced.

Lepiane, who is the wife of College Place Police Chief Dennis Lepiane, began working part-time for the Sheriff’s Office in 1972. She became a full-time employee in February 1975 and was appointed as administrative undersheriff in 1987 by former Sheriff Bill Jackson. Her title was changed to undersheriff under Jackson’s successor, former Sheriff Mike Humphreys. She left the position due to health reasons in June 2009, but did not officially retire until Dec. 31, 2010.

According to federal officials, the thefts occurred on at least 50 occasions between early 2004 until mid-2009. Lepiane admitted to taking cash posted for inmates’ bail, then covering up the thefts by substituting checks received from the phone company that maintained the phone system used by inmates to make collect calls from the jail.

The phone company checks were supposed to be deposited in the Jail Inmate Welfare fund, which is used to purchase educational and recreational supplies and equipment for the welfare of county inmates. The theft of funds “caused a reduction in services to individuals who traditionally do not garner much sympathy,” prosecutors said in their sentencing memorandum.

Prosecutors said the stolen money was deposited into Lepiane’s personal bank account or used to pay for personal online shopping purchases.

The investigation into the thefts began in October 2009 when Humphreys requested the Washington State Patrol look into possible financial improprieties in his office. Along with the WSP and the state Auditor’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation became involved in the case in August 2011.

Lepiane was charged on Sept. 19, 2012, with one count of theft from a federally funded local agency.

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