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Kootenai County funds stolen

by David Cole
| December 29, 2010 8:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - Kootenai County officials announced late Tuesday they believe recently retired chief deputy clerk Sandy Martinson has been engaged in a long-term pattern of criminal activities - specifically embezzlement.

Kootenai County Commissioner Rick Currie said, "There is a definite realization of betrayal. The public sector needs to be a step above."

Martinson couldn't be immediately reached for comment about the allegations.

Kootenai County Clerk-Auditor Dan English said county auditors undertook a routine review of Martinson's records after her late-November retirement and discovered what he called "irregularities."

English said, "Once I knew late one day, and the first thing the next morning I talked to Barry McHugh," the Kootenai County prosecutor, who notified law enforcement.

County officials declined to say how much money they believe she embezzled, but say that is because the investigation is ongoing. Investigators have been going through a large volume of records, including bank statements.

"At this point in time I don't think we can share the figure that we're at, other than (to say it's) sizable," Currie said.

Officials said charges had not been filed because of the ongoing investigation. They said they didn't know whether she had been arrested.

English said investigators for the Coeur d'Alene Police Department interviewed Martinson on Monday.

English said he believes charges are imminent, which allowed the county to share some details Tuesday.

The police department wanted to keep the incident under wraps while it has been investigating during the roughly one-month period that has elapsed since the irregularities were discovered by Martinson's co-workers.

Because she was a Kootenai County employee, the Bonner County prosecutor's office will handle the case.

"This former employee occupied a position of the highest trust and responsibility in Kootenai County for almost 35 years," English said.

Martinson was chief deputy clerk and auditing supervisor before English was appointed in 1995, he said. Her ending salary was more than $66,000 annually, he said.

As a chief deputy, she had the authority to sign documents when English wasn't available. A lot of her day-to-day duties involved dealing with taxing districts, English said.

Up until the discovery, he said Martinson was highly respected by himself, her co-workers, and the community at large.

"Even the possibility that these allegations are true leaves me with a profound and deep sense of shock and violation," English said. "These acts represent a staggering breach of trust towards the public, other employees, and me by this former employee."

He said his office has put in place immediate changes to certain procedures for the district court clerk account and has notified outside auditors.

He said the changes affect how many people look at the account and how the county handles signatures.

"Beyond that, I'm just not going to characterize" what specific changes have been made, he said.

He said he has met with incoming clerk Cliff Hayes, to make him aware of the situation.

The three Kootenai County commissioners called a news conference late Tuesday to announce the suspected embezzlement.

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