The anti-tax activist and his attorneys contend the episode was an honest mistake caused partly by Tim Eyman receiving a phone call that distracted him after he returned to the store to pay for merchandise and services.
Six days after store surveillance video captured anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman wheeling a chair out of an Office Depot in Lacey, city prosecutors on Tuesday filed a misdemeanor theft charge against him.
In response, Eyman’s attorneys quickly issued a news release and statement from their client, contending the entire episode was an honest mistake caused partly by Eyman receiving a phone call that distracted him after he returned to the store to pay for merchandise and services.
“I did not, shortly after giving legislative testimony in Olympia, walk into an Office Depot in Lacey wearing a bright red `Let The Voters Decide’ t-shirt, smile for the cameras, and steal a $70 chair just moments before spending $300 on 2 printers and after getting some life changing good news,” Eyman said in the statement issued by the Puget Law Group. “The reason that doesn’t make any sense is because it doesn’t make any sense. It’s ridiculous, it’s insane, it’s completely unbelievable.”
Lacey City Prosecutor Joseph Svoboda filed one count of theft against Eyman early Tuesday in Thurston District Court. The alleged offense, a gross misdemeanor, carries a maximum of 364 days in jail and/or a $5,000 fine. An arraignment hearing had yet to be scheduled Tuesday afternoon.
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Lacey Police referred the allegation to prosecutors last week after Office Depot employees noticed a display chair missing from the store’s entryway, reviewed surveillance video, recognized Eyman and called the police.
The video shows Eyman — wearing the bright-red “Let The Voters Decide” shirt — looking around and circling the store’s lobby, before walking through the store’s anti-theft devices into the entry vestibule. There, Eyman can be seen sitting, reclining and spinning around three times in a rolling office chair, before he stands up and wheels it out of the store.
About a minute later, Eyman returned to the store, where he printed and scanned some documents, exchanged a printer and bought two new ones for $249, according to the police report.
“He acted wary when I told him I would help him take the printers out to the car,” a store employee told police. “When we got to his vehicle, he insisted I leave the printers on the ground next to his vehicle.”
Eyman learned about the theft investigation while on vacation in Florida with his family, after the story hit the news Friday and “his phone started blowing up,” according to his lawyer, Casey Arbenz.
The way Eyman and Arbenz tell it, the entire episode is an accident.
Eyman, who’s been filing anti-tax initiatives for more than two decades, says he’s been struggling financially since being sued by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who alleges that Eyman has used money donated to his initiative campaigns to enrich himself. Eyman’s company, Watchdog for Taxpayers, has been held in contempt of court and fined $500 a day for nearly a year for not handing over documents relevant to the lawsuit.
He also filed for bankruptcy and divorce late last year, claiming that the lawsuit and legal costs had pushed his finances to the breaking point.
Earlier last Wednesday, Eyman had been testifying before the state Legislature in Olympia, and afterward, went to the Office Depot that he regularly patronizes for printing and other services, Arbenz said.
“Tim was buying multiple things and getting some copying and printing done there, and while waiting, he saw the chair, he sat down in it, and he liked the chair,” Arbenz said. “He didn’t want anyone else to get the chair, so he wheeled it outside and put it in his truck. But then he went back in, fully intending to pay for it as he was buying a couple of hundreds dollars worth of stuff.”
Eyman’s statement said that while he was waiting in the checkout line, he took a call from “the prestigious Institute of Free Speech out of Virginia about representing me for free” in his legal defense to Ferguson’s lawsuit.
“As we talked, I went through the process of paying (this weekend I checked it out — my cell phone records show our phone conversation started before and ended after the purchase),” Eyman said in his statement. “As I left the store, I thought all was paid for and was focused on the phenomenal news that I might finally have legal counsel the State couldn’t veto. I was ecstatic.”
Arbenz also said Eyman contends that before leaving, he told the store’s checkout employee to add the chair onto his purchases, “but apparently the employee didn’t hear him.”
“Tim thought he had bought the chair,” Arbenz said. “So he went out to his truck and left. The next day, he and his family got on a plane to Florida.”
Since the story hit the news, Arbenz and his law firm agreed to handle the case for Eyman for free. The firm has tried to contact Office Depot to offer to return the chair or pay for it, and the lawyers also unsuccessfully tried to reach the Lacey city prosecutor to relate Eyman’s account of what happened.
“Unfortunately, nobody got back to us,” Arbenz said. “We had hoped to head this off before they filed charges.”
Asked why Eyman would take merchandise out of a store and place it into his car before paying for it, Arbenz responded: “That’s a fair question. That’s not something I would do normally. But I get the impression that Tim was buying a lot of stuff there already, and also he’s in that Office Depot a fair amount. I mean, he knows the store manager by his first name.”