Waitsburg Lions' funds cleaned out

Donald L. Johnson of Walla Walla, the club treasurer, allegedly stole $14,600 from the group.

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WAITSBURG -- Waitsburg Lions Club's bank accounts were stripped clean, club members learned this week.

The club's treasurer was arrested Wednesday on investigation of first-degree theft for allegedly writing 16 checks totaling $14,600 on the club account.

Donald L. Johnson, 38, of 835 S. Second Ave., Walla Walla, was released Thursday from the Walla Walla County Jail following an initial appearance in Superior Court. Filing of a formal charge leading to further court proceedings is pending.

Johnson allegedly cashed multiple checks made out to "Cash" at various AmericanWest Bank branches in Walla Walla, and at the Blue Mountain Casino. He was not authorized to cash the checks, according to a Sheriff's Office report.

The first check was written June 11 on a counter check at a Walla Walla AmericanWest branch. The other 15 checks were written between Dec. 28 and Jan. 24 for amounts ranging from $200 to $2,500.

In an interview with a sheriff's deputy before his arrest, Johnson admitted writing the checks and said "that since his divorce he has been having financial difficulties," according to the deputy's report presented in court. "He said that he was trying to get a personal loan to pay the money back and had even asked friends and family for help. Johnson said that he was gambling as well which added to the financial problems."

Club members first learned of the thefts when a club member was notified that checks had bounced, according to sheriff's Capt. Bill White.

Lions Club President Scott Branson said Johnson had been treasurer for about 18 months, and has been a member of the club for a longer period of time.

The 80-member club participates in a number of fundraisers throughout the year, and uses the money for supporting community projects.

"Any community activity that comes up, we try to support," Branson said.

One of the recent projects of the club is construction of the Lions Memorial Building at the Waitsburg Fairgrounds, which is available for community use.

Fundraisers include ice sales at the Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days, Fall Festival barbecue, a fall salmon feed, a rib feed in May, and sale of smoked turkeys in November and December.

The club Board of Directors met Wednesday night, and set up a finance committee to get the books in order and "find out where we're sitting financially," Branson said.

Carrie Chicken can be reached at cec@innw.net or 522-5289.

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