City probes theft possibility

Employee has been placed on leave, investigation continues

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COEUR d'ALENE - The City of Coeur d'Alene has placed an employee in its Finance Department on administrative leave and asked the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department and Kootenai County prosecutor to investigate the possibility that funds have been embezzled.

The city is not naming the employee now, nor does it know how much money has gone missing. But officials believe the amount is "in the thousands of dollars" and that the transactions involve wire transfers and a federal bank, which could bring the Secret Service into the investigation.

"The city is cooperating with the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department and the Kootenai County prosecutor in gathering documents, transaction records, and other financial information to investigate this matter," City Attorney Mike Gridley stated in a prepared statement Monday. "Because this matter is a personnel matter and involves an active criminal investigation, there is little information that we can share at this time. Full details will be released at the appropriate time."

Gridley did say that the employee, who has worked for the city since around 2002, was involved in payroll processing. The employee is the only one involved in the investigation, and believed to be the only person who benefited financially.

None of the conduct points toward citizen or employee identity information being compromised, but instead focuses on unauthorized money transfers from at least one city bank account to the employee's personal account.

The financial irregularities were noticed last week during an account reconciliation while the employee had been away on vacation.

When department heads questioned the employee about the transactions, the employee "did not have a good answer," Gridley said.

"The answers didn't make sense," he said. "It kind of unraveled after that."

The investigation will look over several years worth of financing now. It's impossible to put a dollar figure on the amount of potential missing funds because more research needs to be done, Gridley said.

"We're going back and checking previous years," Gridley said. "We think there will be some (similar) conduct in previous years ... It was a pretty sophisticated system and an entrusted person."

Gridley couldn't elaborate on the sophisticated system used, but said it involved at least one bank and names of vendors with which the city does legitimate business. The sheriff's office didn't return messages left by The Press Monday afternoon.

Immediate action has been taken by the city to secure all its accounts, the city's press release stated. The suspected employee has been relieved of duties and barred from city facilities pending the outcome of a formal investigation.

"We have to go through a formal due process before we can terminate an employee," Gridley said. "That process has started."

The city is not paying the employee, although if the employee had accrued vacation time, he or she could use it, Gridley said. The employee's administrative hearing is scheduled for Monday.

The discovery marks the second account of a public employee accused of embezzlement in just over a year.

Kootenai County's former chief deputy clerk and auditing supervisor, Sandy Martinson, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and ordered to pay $49,000 in restitution last Oct. 31. Martinson was convicted of stealing $140,000 over 10 years.

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