The state auditor’s office found that more than 80% of payments made by a small King County drainage district in the past seven years were made to relatives of a district commissioner, who used the funds for personal expenses.
King County Drainage District No. 5 provides stormwater drainage services to the Enumclaw area and operates on a $75,000 annual budget funded by taxpayers. It had been overseen by two commissioners tasked with handling payments to contractors.
The auditor’s office, investigating fraud allegations, found that $413,323 of the approximately $500,000 spent by the district between May 2012 and January of this year went to a bank account set up by a son and the wife of former commissioner Allan Thomas. Invoices detailing the work done for these payments were vague, and Thomas and his wife used funds in the account for personal purposes, according to the auditor.
The audit report, released Wednesday, confirms a King 5 investigation in April that found Thomas was making payments to a bank account for personal use. King 5 also reported that an election for Thomas’ position hadn’t been held since he was elected in 1988.
The King County Council removed commissioners from the drainage district after the report, and county councilmember Reagan Dunn asked the FBI to investigate. The state auditor’s office referred the case to King County prosecutors.
The state auditor’s office began investigating the drainage district when an Enumclaw city attorney grew concerned after reviewing expenditure reports and filed a police report in 2017.
The Enumclaw Police Department finished its investigation in January and determined the district made fraudulent payments to Thomas’ son. The son told police that Thomas helped him start a business to perform ditch maintenance for the district, according to the report.
Thomas’ son and wife opened a bank account for the business, which received payments from the district until December 2017. It wasn’t clear what the payments were for because of the vague invoice descriptions, according to the auditor’s report.
In an interview with the auditor’s office, Thomas’ son said he’d performed two jobs cleaning ditches.
The audit found that Thomas and his wife would withdraw money out of that business account or transfer it into their own personal account, which they used to pay for property taxes and to support their family farm.
The audit also found $66,035 in questionable transactions between 2013 and 2019, according to the report. Most of these payments were made to another vendor, which the auditor couldn’t find listed as a registered business or licensed contractor.
According to the auditor’s office, Thomas said he set up the business with his son and directed him to work for the district. Thomas said the payments made from the account to his farming business were for rental equipment used by his son to do work for the district, as well as his son’s rent and the cows his son kept at his farm, according to the report.
Thomas’ wife told investigators that when she transferred money out of the business account to her personal account, it was to pay for her stepson’s bills to give him cash.
The other commissioner of the drainage district said he didn’t handle the district’s finances, which Thomas and his wife dealt with, according to the report.
The auditor’s office recommended that the district strengthen oversight of public resources and try to recover the misappropriated money.
The auditor’s office also released a report Wednesday declaring that the district has been “unauditable” since 2016, and would continue to be if it does not file an annual financial report by May 30. The report listed other government bodies in the state that didn’t meet their obligation to file annual financial reports with its office last year, as well as governments at risk this year.