Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Sewer District swindled, suspect ex-worker had prior felonies

by June 12th, 2013

A new state auditor’s fraud investigation report says a former employee of the Valley View Sewer District serving Burien, Seatac and Tukwila actually embezzled more than double what the district, police and prosecutors had thought. But what the new report doesn’t say is that hidden away from public view, the employee, Andrea Ceceil Drane, is already being prosecuted for felony theft in the case – and that before she was hired by the district in early 2011 she’d already been sentenced to three years in a “work ethic camp” for nine counts of felony theft in a 2002 embezzlement of an estimated $125,000 belonging to another, private sector South End employer of hers. Valley View serves 8,000 sewage treatment customers in the three cities and unincorporated South King County.

In early 2011 the district hired as an accounts receivable clerk and receptionist Drane, now 46, whose last known address at the time of her arrest in February, 2012 was in the 20300 block of 96th Avenue S. in Kent. But she told the district her name was Andrea C. Avery, and her past felony convictions escaped the notice of the district’s manager Dana Dick.

The District’s three elected commissioners are Darleene Thompson, Michael West, and Pam Carter, a former Tukwila City Council member. About a month prior to the release of the state fraud report on Drane that was issued this week, Thompson announced she would be resigning from the board at the end of June, according to board meeting minutes.

The new fraud report says Drane misappropriated $10,868.19 in her one year of employment at the district, 2011, through voided and partial customer bill payments, and billing adjustments. She made changes to customers’ records to indicate they had paid all or most of current bills but actually misdirected related monies to herself, auditors say. The report from Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley recommends the district be reimbursed for the $10,868.19 and the auditor’s office for another $4,473 in investigation costs.

But criminal legal proceedings in the case were already well underway, though unknown to all but a very few insiders and previously unreported upon. In charging papers for second degree theft filed in March of 2012, King County prosecutors alleged based on reports from the district to Tukwila Police that Drane had siphoned off only about $5,000. That estimate was based on voided payments but not the partial payments or adjustments identified in the auditor’s report. Second degree theft is a Class C felony in Washington state, punishable by a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Ian Goodhew, Deputy Chief of Staff to King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg said the current case has been continued repeatedly because Drane has admitted responsibility and agreed to provide restitution. Valley View Sewer District has submitted the auditor’s report to its insurers and will be seeking full recompense. Goodhew said prosecutors would seek to support whatever restitution amount the district pinpoints that is directly related to the alleged theft by Drane, but cannot enter into the separate compensation sought by the auditor’s office for its own investigation costs.

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The district’s manager Dick declined to directly comment on the taxing body’s failure to learn prior to her hiring in 2011 of Drane’s 2003 conviction on nine counts of first degree theft and her sentencing to three years detention. According to King County court records in that earlier case, including related sentencing and charging papers, Drane was convicted and was to be sentenced under a special state law to three years in a “work ethic camp” after she embezzled more than $125,000 from Global Harvest Foods. It is a family-owned specialty seed products manufacturer then based in Kent and now in Tukwila, which makes feed for outdoor birds, other wildlife and domestic pets such as guinea pigs and rabbits.

According to the police report included in the 2002 charging papers, Drane wrote 55 company checks to herself but disguised them in records as payments to company vendors. She told police she did this to cover gambling debts. She had been hired as an administrative assistant but had been promoted to office manager.

Dick did provide a written statement from the district about the current case involving Drane. It says the district is following “all available avenues to recoup the lost funds” and that it has taken recommended steps in the report to tighten up its internal financial operations. These include segregating duties of workers who receive cash payments from those who void payments and adjust accounts; instituting better oversight of voided payments and adjustments to accounts; and ensuring there’s independent reconciliation of daily cashiers’ receipts.

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