Friday, September 11, 2009
An exhausting months-long investigation into the possible theft of thousands of dollars from the Sunnyside Police Department has resulted in a former employee being charged with felony theft.
Police believe receptionist Virginia Perez, who was paid $31,656 a year, embezzled approximately $11,100 from two accounts at the police station.
Perez had worked as a receptionist for the police department since May of 2007 and inconsistencies with two accounts were noticed in July of 2008.
Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder told the Daily Sun News that the two accounts in question are the prisoner trust account and the police trust account.
When the Sunnyside Police Department makes an arrest on a warrant issued outside of Sunnyside, the suspect is taken to jail. If that suspect's bail is then paid, the money goes into the police trust account. That money is then sent out to the appropriate agency.
The prisoner trust fund is where money from prisoners is kept when they are arrested. When the prisoner is released from Sunnyside Jail they are issued a check for the amount they had when they were arrested.
Radder said sometimes checks for low amounts of money are never even cashed. These checks were usually just written off after a certain amount of time had passed. The police department has since changed that policy and anything under $5 is kept with the prisoner's property and not deposited into the prisoner's trust fund.
The inconsistencies in the two accounts were first investigated by city staff at City Hall.
The review led to the city retaining the services of a forensic fraud investigator that had prior experience with the State Auditor's office. Sunnyside's intent was to determine the extent of the shortages, exactly how they were occurring and if it was possible to identify the perpetrator.
Perez was soon identified as a probable suspect and placed on administrative leave. Her employment was terminated on Sept. 19, 2008.
Radder said the initial contacts with Perez were very non-aggressive.
"We wanted her to remain cooperative," Radder said of the reason for not arresting Perez right away. "We wanted to make sure she was acting alone."
At first police thought the amount believed to have been stolen could be between $10,000 and $15,000. During the investigation it was revealed that between May and August of 2008 there were 30 transactions that were believed to involve fraud totaling $11,100. It is alleged that all of those transactions can be traced to Perez.
Several things have hampered the investigation along the way. Radder said four homicides have occurred in Sunnyside since the investigation began, forcing the case to be put on hold.
Also, Radder said, the sensitive nature of the case warranted a painstaking investigation. It's a big, black eye for the department and Radder said he wanted an air-tight case.
The investigation was extensive, with a tremendous amount of court documents and receipts having been intensely scrutinized to help unravel the extent of the theft.
The completed report was submitted to the Yakima County Prosecutor's Office on June 11, 2009 for review and filing decisions. The case was formally presented to a Superior Court judge on Thursday, Sept. 3.
Last Tuesday, Sept. 8, a warrant was entered into the state/national system, charging the 21-year-old Perez with five counts of felony theft. Police say additional charges are expected as the prosecutors review the case and the court process continues.
Perez is believed to be in California and once she is picked up by police in that state, she is expected to be extradited back to Sunnyside.
Radder said any cost of extradition will be worth it for the simple fact of the message it will send.
"We will prosecute our own," he said.
In order to prevent similar acts in the future, Radder said the department has increased its checks and balances that have been put into place. These include a change to a more electronic manner of conducting business and limiting the way money is accepted into a prisoner's account.