New name, similar problem

Records show city theft suspect had stolen before

COEUR d'ALENE - The Coeur d'Alene finance employee fired for allegedly embezzling city funds had been convicted for stealing an Oregon company's money years ago.

Sheryl Lynn Carroll, 51 - who was fired July 24 after she failed to show up for a personnel meeting to discuss allegations she transferred city money into her personal accounts - pleaded guilty to first-degree theft March 21, 1983, in Deschutes County for stealing from Everett Turner Realtors, the real estate office where she worked in Bend, Ore.

"It was difficult for me," said Everett Turner when he was reached by The Press this week. Turner had hired Carroll in 1980 and caught her stealing in December 1982. "We trusted her. She was like a member of the family. The whole office, 14 people, and she stole from every single one of them."

According to Deschutes County court records, as part of her guilty plea, two counts of forgery were dismissed against Carroll, who had the last name Anderson at the time.

Carroll, 22 at the time, forged Turner's signature on company checks in amounts greater than $200 for her own financial benefit.

She was sentenced to five months in county jail, ordered to pay $8,950 in restitution, and put on five years probation for the felony offense.

"She could write my signature better than I could," said Turner, who discovered more financial irregularities in his real estate office after the court case was settled. He now estimates he lost upwards of $20,000. "She took everything that wasn't nailed down."

Carroll has not returned several phone messages and a text from The Press.

Sheryl Anderson became Sheryl Carroll after she married Ronald G. Carroll in November 1983, according to a copy of their marriage certificate in Chelan County, Wash. The license shows the bride and groom were from Bend, Ore.

The Carrolls divorced in Kootenai County in 1999, and divorce decree records in Kootenai County's 1st District Court show that Sheryl Carroll was allowed to use her maiden name Anderson, if she chose.

Divorce records also show that Carroll was working for Joe Clark Certified Public Accounting as well as "doing the books" for Auto Exchange at the time. The Press was unable to determine if those companies still exist in Kootenai County.

The city has never confirmed Carroll is the finance employee suspected of embezzling city money - officials say "thousands" of dollars are missing - but city records show Carroll is the only finance employee who has left the department recently.

By its own policy, the city cannot comment on personnel issues, but City Administrator Wendy Gabriel said Thursday the city would "absolutely not" have hired Carroll Oct. 17, 2002, had the city known about any felony convictions dealing with money.

"This city was not aware of any prior issues or felonies when we hired her," Gabriel said.

For years, city employment applications have queried applicants: "Have you been convicted of a felony or served time in prison during the last seven years?"

Asked last week by The Press why the application form specifies seven years, the city's legal and human resource departments said they weren't sure. Applications as far back as the 1990s specify seven years.

After checking what other governmental entities ask, the city then changed its applications last week, dropping the seven-year specification.

"There's no reason we can come up with that would restrict it for seven years. It may have been something that came up internally way back in the early '90s," said Pam McDonald, HR director. "Why put it on there if we don't even know why it was restricted in the first place?"

The application also states that if an applicant affirms that he or she has been convicted of a felony, it would not automatically disqualify the applicant from the position.

Weighing felony conviction when judging an applicant is done on a case by case basis, McDonald said. If the felony is for a crime that directly affects the applied-for position, it would be a major red flag, she said.

Both City Attorney Mike Gridley and McDonald - in a hypothetical example of what felony would likely disqualify an applicant for which department - used a financial crime for a finance applicant.

"If you have a felony that is related to money, or some sort of accounting activity, we're going to consider that," McDonald said.

The city does background checks on some positions, but not all, officials said.

HR does reference checks related to employment and interview information, but FBI criminal background checks are done for specific positions such as police officers and parks positions that require the person to access certain facilities, like the police department, and recreation employees who work with children. On all new hires, the city also checks the Idaho repository website that provides court data, but that site is restricted to Idaho records only.

Gabriel said Thursday that in light of the embezzlement case, all finance department positions will be added to the city's FBI background checks.

City officials aren't sure how the recent embezzlement will affect other policies or procedures.

Finance Director Troy Tymesen said in an email he could not answer anything specific on the current embezzlement case, including whether any different safeguard practices will go in.

"There is an ongoing investigation into the transactions in question and I am not providing details at this time," Tymesen wrote, adding that the annual audit will continue to be conducted by a certified public accounting firm. He said the finance department "is always seeking to improve and install the best controls available to the accounting practices at the city."

The Kootenai County Sheriff's Office is handling the investigation, and as of Thursday no arrests had been made. It couldn't comment on the investigation, but told The Press in previous interviews it would issue a press release if an arrest is made.

The amount Carroll is suspected of stealing hasn't been calculated, as financial reports from previous years are being scrutinized. The financial irregularities were discovered when Carroll, who worked with employee payroll, was away on vacation.

Turner, who is still involved in real estate in Bend, said he also discovered the missing money when Carroll, then Anderson, was away on vacation.

"The file popped open, and there was a financial statement that looked like she made the payment," Turner said, on that day he took over Carroll's duties in 1982. "She made it, but to her."

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