Huston Pleads Guilty to Stealing County Money

<p>Dennis Huston</p>

Dennis Huston

Almost exactly one year after his arrest, former Franklin County administrator Dennis Huston pleaded guilty to stealing money from the county this morning.

Huston pleaded guilty to first degree aggravated theft, aggravated money laundering and possession of cocaine.

In a statement Huston provided to the court, he admitted to stealing money between March 1990 and February 2012.

He stated he used trusted relationships to commit the crimes.

The prosecuting attorney says he's relieved the case is over, but believes the county will never recover the $2.8 million it lost during the thefts.

"In that sense, it's a little bit of relief and that you can move past it. This is going to be the kind of wound that's going to fester for a while unfortunately, because the amount of money that's stolen is going to continue to hurt this county for a very long period of time" said Scott Marlow, Assistant Attorney General of Washington state.

This is the state's largest embezzlement case of public funds.

Huston faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.

However, Marlow says he will be recommending a sentence of 15 years.

A sentencing hearing is expected to take place within the next 6 - 8 weeks.

Background from the Attorney General's Office:

The former Franklin County Public Works director for administration and accounting admitted to fraudulently submitting invoices and payment requests for Critzer Equipment Company, then depositing the money into a company bank account he had opened from March 1990 to February 2012.

The county processed invoices and payments even after November 2001, when the legitimate business closed down. In some cases, Franklin County made two to three payments of $4,000 to $9,000 a month. When investigators notified the former owner of Critzer Equipment Company, he told them his company wasn’t involved in selling parts typically used by a county public works department.

The County Auditor’s Office discovered the possible fraud in January 2012 while reviewing the paperwork of Franklin County vendors. The Pasco Police Department started an investigation and obtained a search warrant for the bank records of the Critzer Equipment Company business account. A signature card showed Huston as the sole proprietor of Doyle BR/Critzer Equipment.

Investigators found numerous withdrawals from ATMs, payments to Huston’s credit card accounts using checks from the Doyle BR/Critzer bank account, and payments to Huston as cash. Investigators say Huston’s signature was on all the checks. At the end of January, when another check came through for approval, surveillance video showed Huston making a deposit at the bank holding the Critzer Equipment Company business account.

Officers arrested Huston on Feb. 2, 2012, at the Franklin County Public Works building. Investigators say he admitted to creating the Critzer Equipment Company vouchers on his office computer, forging the initials of others to indicate the vouchers had been approved and the parts received and submitting the vouchers. Huston told investigators he used the money to buy cocaine and gamble at a local casino.

Police found suspected cocaine among personal items taken from him upon his arrest and sent it to the State Patrol Crime Lab in Kennewick where testing confirmed the substance as cocaine. Huston admitted the cocaine was on his person at the time of the arrest.