The Department of Ecology employee has pleaded not guilty to first-degree theft.

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TACOMA — An environmental specialist with the state Department of Ecology has pleaded not guilty to stealing more than $17,000 from an employee celebration fund.

The News Tribune reports that the female employee, 48, of Spanaway, was charged with first-degree theft after being arrested Feb. 10.

Court documents say she had managed a voluntary fund that paid for employee celebrations, such as birthdays and retirements. The account had contributions from about 220 employees, according to an investigation.

The alleged theft occurred between October 2015 and February.

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The employee allegedly told authorities she had used the money to pay medical bills for her disabled daughter.

A state spokesman, Dustin Terpening, said the 20-year employee of the department has been placed on home assignment pending an investigation.