Former Walla Walla County undersheriff sentenced for embezzlement

Former Walla Walla County undersheriff sentenced for embezzlement »Play Video

A former Walla Walla County undersheriff was sentenced to six months in prison for embezzling public funds.

Here's the official news release from the Department of Justice:

Michael C. Ormsby, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that Carole J. Lepiane, age 58, of College Place, Washington, was sentenced for embezzling public funds while working as the Walla Walla County Undersheriff. Senior United States District Judge Fred Van Sickle sentenced Lepiane to a 6 month term of imprisonment. Upon release from custody, Lepiane will be under court supervision for 1 year, with a condition of supervision that she must reside at a residential re-entry center for 4 months. In addition, Judge Van Sickle ordered Lepiane to pay $81,271 in restitution.

Lepiane pleaded guilty on October 11, 2012 to one count of Theft From a Federally
Funded Local Agency, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(A). According to information
disclosed during the court proceedings, Lepiane worked for Walla Walla County Sheriff’s
Office (WWCSO) for over 35 years. From 1998 to July 2009, she served as Undersheriff. Her
responsibilities included overseeing deposits of funds into the WWCSO bank accounts, such as cash funds received as bail for jail inmates. Also, the WWCSO received checks, which represented the proceeds from jail inmates’ use of the phone system. These funds were required to be deposited into an Inmate Welfare Fund, and used to improve conditions for inmates at the Jail. From 2004 to June of 2009, Lepiane operated a check for cash swap. She stole some of the cash bail money that was taken in by the Jail. She then inserted a check from the phone proceeds for the amount of cash bail stolen to maintain the total amount of the original deposit and hide the theft. As a result, the checks for the phone proceeds were not contributed to the Inmate Welfare Fund. Using this scheme, Lepiane stole from the fund on at least 50 separate occasions, taking $67, 145 from Walla Walla County. She used the stolen funds to make numerous cash deposits into her personal bank account and also pay for personal online shopping purchases.

As part of the agreed resolution of this case, at sentencing Lepiane paid restitution in the amount of $81,271 to Walla Walla County. The restitution represents the $67,145 in stolen funds and approximately $14,000 to reimburse Walla Walla County for the cost of  conducting an audit.

Michael C. Ormsby United States, the Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, said, “It is a privilege to serve in law enforcement. Individuals who abuse that role and betray the public’s trust for their personal benefit will be aggressively investigated and prosecuted,” Mr. Ormsby also cautioned the public not to let Lepiane’s theft undermine their confidence in other dedicated public servants and the stellar work performed by the Walla Walla County
Sheriff’s Office. United States Attorney Ormsby also recognized the cooperative attitude of  the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office and the hard work conducted by the FBI, the Washington State Patrol, and the Washington State Auditor’s Office.

“The vast majority of law enforcement officials are honorable public servants who perform their duties with the utmost integrity, and, sometimes, at great personal cost,” said Special Agent-in-Charge Laura Laughlin of the FBI Seattle Division. “However, in those rare instances when these officials violate their duty to uphold the law and instead commit crimes
 hemselves, the FBI will conduct a thorough, impartial investigation to preserve and restore public trust and confidence.”

This investigation was conducted by the FBI and the Washington State Patrol, with assistance from the Washington State Auditor’s Office. The case was prosecuted by Mary K.
Dimke, an Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington. Case No. CR-12-6054-FVS

The Walla Walla County Sheriff released this statement following the ruling:

Today is a sad day for law enforcement.  Any time a trusted public servant chooses to violate and betray that trust, it is a bitter sting for all.  The fact that Ms. Lepiane is a former employee of a prior administration makes the sting none the less for any of us at the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office. 

The badge we are privileged to wear is a symbol of public trust.  As long as we in law enforcement accept the privilege, accept the responsibility, and accept a public paycheck, it’s pretty simple; be a cop or be a crook, don’t ever be both. 

When I became Sheriff in January of 2011, I was briefed on the Lepiane investigation which was underway.  My three goals immediately became:

1.    Justice would be served regardless of where the investigation led,
2.    All stolen money would be returned in full, and
3.    Public trust would be restored in the WWSO by investigating not just a single individual, but all employees and all financial transactions of the Sheriff’s Office. 

Today, justice has been served, all stolen money will be returned, and I can stand in front of the citizens of Walla Walla County and ensure them that every current employee of our Sheriff’s Office is worthy of their trust and had nothing to do with these thefts.  This investigation determined that Ms. Lepiane acted alone.  I would not be able to make those statements without the enormous volume of great work done by members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Attorney’s Office, Washington State Patrol, and Washington State Auditor’s Office. 

Due to facts and circumstances known at that time, coupled with my strong desire that all three of the above goals be met, I requested that the FBI and US Attorney’s Office take a look at this investigation. They, along with assistance from the WSP and State Auditor’s Office, did an outstanding job.  The scope, breadth, chronology, and volume of transactions that this investigation covered were enormous.  I am very grateful, and I believe we all should be grateful, for the extremely competent work and outcome that these dedicated professionals accomplished for our community.