Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Port of Seattle temp’s scam try brings three felony charges

by Matt Rosenberg April 8th, 2013

A former Port of Seattle temp named Kelly Wengping Lee hired from the AppleOne firm is charged in King County Superior Court documents with three counts of felony identity theft for allegedly trying to go on an online Nordstrom shopping spree using the Port credit cards of Port Commission Office executive assistant Marcella Hernandez, who supervised her, as well as Port Commission President Tom Albro and then-Port Commissioner Rob Holland. According to a Port police report Lee admitted the attempted buys, and said she needed some retail therapy after recent personal troubles.

Wide range of confidential commissioner ID data found in temp’s home, car
Searches Lee formally authorized by Port police of her Magnolia apartment and her car turned up not only Port credit card numbers for Holland, Albro and Hernandez, but also those of Port Commissioners John Creighton, Bill Bryant and Gael Tarleton, and a wealth of confidential identifying data on Tarleton and Creighton including personal credit card account information, birthplaces and dates, social security numbers, frequent flyer plans and driver’s license numbers. According to case documents, Hernandez had shown the temp Lee a white binder with confidential Commissioner data and told her she might need to use it to make travel arrangements for some of them.

Port audit was to have probed deeper; now delayed until 2014
A Port internal audit that had already been started was to further probe this case and other Commission Office managerial problems but it was delayed until 2014 at last week’s Internal Audit Committee meeting because audit staff in a memo said the Commission Office has been too busy trying to fill two internal vacancies and assist the Commission in filling two Commissioner vacancies. Tarleton was elected to the state legislature in November, resigned from the Port Commission in January, and was replaced after Microsoft attorney Courtney Gregoire was selected from a field of more than two dozen applicants. Holland resigned in February on the heels of published reports about clashes with Port elected and staff, and ethics problems including misuse of his Port credit card.

The busy backdrop – other Port ethics troubles
The Lee case also follows recent revelations reported here about Port marine unit driver Laeva Solo of Seatac, Wash. who was suspended for seven days without pay after trying to use his Port purchasing card to withdraw money while off-duty on a Sunday morning at the Emerald Queen Casino in Fife; and Port sign shop painter David John Swenson of Lake Stevens, Wash., who resigned after admitting to using his work computer to view pornography. A 2010 state audit of the Port also disclosed 41 instances of reported internal theft there from 2006 through 2009 of items worth $107,000. The Port said it had adopted major ethics reforms after a 2007 state audit detailed improprieties in bid-awarding at the Port’s Sea-Tac Airport.

Nordie’s to the rescue
According to public records, the Nordstrom fraud unit prevented completion of the four alleged bogus gift card purchase attempts by Lee. The attempts were tied to what Port investigators say were Lee’s personal email addresses, phone numbers and Internet service accounts.

Court and Port police records indicate that after “the Port of Seattle had hired Kelly Lee from AppleOne employment services” she worked as a temp for the Port from October 1 through 12. Lee was scheduled to work again Monday October 15 but the night before left a voice mail that she had a new job and wouldn’t be coming in any more. Between that night October 14 and October 20 she made four unsuccessful electronic gift card buy attempts from Nordstrom for herself worth $2,750 using the Port credit card account information of Hernandez, Albro and Holland. According to police a series of fairly obvious mistakes made it apparent there were problems and led to blockage by Nordstrom of the attempted gift card buys.

Reports indicate these mistakes included providing incorrect billing addresses and zip codes for the Port cards and mixing in her own phone number and email addresses with the e-gift card orders on the Port credit cards; and suspiciously impersonating an assistant to Commissioner Albro when she called from her personal cell phone in response to an e-mailed denial of purchase by Nordstrom.

Police report: Lee needed to “treat” herself with unauthorized Port gifts
In a “probable cause statement” report from Port police included in the county court documents, Lee is described as clearly admitting to attempting using the stolen Port credit card information to buy the Nordie’s electronic gift cards. She told a Port investigator that, according to the report, “she realized that it sounded selfish or superficial…but she had gone through a rough patch in her life and the Nordstrom order was a way to treat or take care of herself.”

Tried to use Port cards to pay for facial treatments, too
The court documents also state the Lee on October 15 also unsuccessfully attempted to use Hernandez’s Port credit card to make two orders, for $199 and $249, through the internet discounter Groupon, to pre-purchase a Radiesse Injection, or collagen and filler to reduce facial lines and wrinkles, from Cosmetic Surgical Arts Center in Lynnwood. Court documents also state Lee had a 2008 Driving While Under the Influence conviction in Sacramento, Calif.

Selected Public Data Ferret geographic Ethics archives: Puget Sound regional; Snohomish County local; King County local; Seattle

Lee pled not guilty when called to initially answer the charges at her arraignment in King County Superior Court February 20. Her next court date is currently set for April 24 at 1 p.m. in the Regional Justice Center in Kent, at which dates are to be set for pre-trial hearings or for trial if both sides are ready, said King County Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Dan Donohoe. Another possibility in such cases is a pre-trial settlement. Each of the three counts of felony identity theft against Lee is classified under state law as a Class C felony, each carrying a penalty of up to five years incarceration or a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Port spokesman Jason Kelly said “Marcella Hernandez no longer works for Port of Seattle, but her departure was not related to this incident. Her vacancy at the commission office has yet to be filled.” He added, “Temporary employees in the commission office no longer have access to any credit card numbers or sensitive personal information related to port staff or commissioners.” Kelly said he was not yet able to answer whether the Port had made any decisions about whether or not to continue to do business with AppleOne.


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