Whidbey News-Times


Former Island County EDC staffer faces theft charge

Whidbey News-Times Co-editor
March 1, 2013 · Updated 3:35 PM

The former assistant director of the Island County Economic Development Council is accused of embezzling more than $30,000 from the agency, court documents state.

Prosecutors charged 58-year-old Sharleen Eller in Island County Superior Court Feb. 13 with theft in the first degree, a crime described in court papers as to “embezzle currency via scheme.”

Eller could face up to 90 days in jail if convicted.

Eller was previously a Coupeville resident, but has since moved, according to the prosecutor’s office. She was summoned to appear in court March 4.

Deputy Prosecutor David Carman said the alleged theft took more than three years to investigate and went through several investigators over that time.

“In a financial case like this, there were a lot, and I mean a lot, of records that needed to be gone through,” he said.

The alleged theft was discovered in September of 2009 after Sharon Hart, the former director of the EDC, hired an outside bookkeeping service. The bookkeeper found that Eller wrote extra payroll checks to herself, according to a report by Deputy Hodges Gowdey with the Coupeville Marshal’s Office.

In addition, the bookkeeper found that Eller didn’t pay taxes to the IRS, which was part of her job. Hart estimated the tax liability at $150,000, the report states.

The report indicates that Eller was responsible for writing monthly payroll checks to Hart and herself.

Under the agency’s procedure, Eller would write checks for herself and Hart, then have them signed by an EDC board member. But on 20 occasions from 2003 to 2007, she wrote second checks to herself and asked a different EDC board member to sign, Gowdey wrote.

The total amount of the theft, Gowdey wrote, was $32,000. Carman said the number was “an approximation.”

Gowdey interviewed Eller in 2010. He asked her about the discrepancies and extra checks. She repeatedly said, “I don’t have an explanation for that,” and wouldn’t comment further, the report states.

Ron Nelson, the current director of the EDC, said he was aware of the case, but didn’t know many details. He said the agency currently contracts with a bookkeeping service to handle the books.

“It’s very surprising that a person who had worked here for 10 years could do something like that,” he said.

“It’s very disconcerting, especially for a nonprofit,” he said.

The Island County EDC is a nonprofit organization that encourages economic prosperity and helps business owners. It currently receives $67,000 a year in rural county economic development sales tax, which is a rebate from the state, the county’s budget director said.


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