Dennis M. Huston, former Franklin County Director for Administration and Accounting, may  go to prison for 25 years.Huston entered the guilty plea in Franklin County Superior Court Thursday. The Washington State Attorney General's office prosecuted the case because of the magnitude of the crime.

The Office of AG Bob Ferguson said it was the largest case of embezzlement of public funds in the history of the state of Washington. From the WA State Attorney General's office:

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

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 Franklin 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.

Huston was arrested last February. It took nearly a year for the investigation to be completed due to its complexity. Huston plead guilty Thursday to first degree theft and money laundering with aggravating circumstances that could lead to higher sentences, plus possession of cocaine. He could face up to 25 years in prison and fines of over $2.8 million.

Huston told Pasco police investigators he embezzled the money to support a drug habit.  The embezzlement scheme led to widespread changes in financial procedures in Franklin County, as well as implementing numerous new check-and-balance accountability for all financial departments.

He has already been sued by Franklin County, in March 2012, in an attempt to recover some of the millions he stole. He previously spent four years in prison for running a similar fraud scheme at the Federal Bureau of Reclamation in Montana in the late 1980s.

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