Originally published January 10, 2013 at 12:02p.m., updated January 11, 2013 at 12:59p.m.
CORRECTION: Carole Lepiane’s retirement from the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office became official on Dec. 31, 2010. Due to a reporter’s error, an incorrect year was cited on Page A1 on Thursday. Lepiane also began working for the Sheriff’s Office in 1972, but became a full-time employee in 1975. We regret the error.
RICHLAND — A long-running embezzlement case at the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office ended late this morning with the sentencing of a former undersheriff.
At U.S. District Court in Richland, Carole Lepiane was sentenced to prison for stealing funds over a five-year period. Under the terms of a plea agreement, she will serve six months in a federal facility followed by four months in a halfway house.
In addition, she will be on supervised release for a year after leaving the halfway house. The 58-year-old Lepiane was not taken into custody after the 35-minute sentencing by Senior Judge Fred Van Sickle. She will be allowed to report to a detention facility at a later date.
Lepiane, dressed all in black and moving slowly, was accompanied by her attorney, Michael de Grasse.
In a brief statement, Lepiane told Van Sickle, “I am very sorry for any actions that I took that were detrimental to my colleagues ... and especially Sheriff Mike Humphreys.”
She added that she hoped to make amends for her crime.
Van Sickle said that clearly this was a case of embezzlement involving an abuse of trust and that the victims were inmates who were not in a position to know of the theft. Furthermore, he said, the investigation caused a great deal of stress to employees of the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office.
“You did cause some real difficulties for both people in the Sheriff’s Office and the community,” Van Sickle said.
She has waived her right to appeal.
Lepiane’s husband, College Place police Chief Dennis Lepiane, was not present in the courtroom.
In addition to the prison time, Lepiane was ordered to pay $81,271.63 in restitution to the county. This includes $67,145.63 stolen from the sheriff’s office and $14,126 paid by the county to the state Auditor’s Office as part of the investigation.
That money has already been paid into a trust account facilitated by de Grasse.
Lepiane pleaded guilty in October to one count of theft from a federally funded local agency. She was allowed to remain free on her own recognizance prior to today’s sentencing.
According to federal officials, Lepiane took cash posted for inmates’ bail, then covered up the thefts by substituting checks received from the phone company that operated the phone system used by inmates. The phone company checks were supposed to be deposited in the Jail Inmate Welfare fund, which is used to purchase educational and recreational supplies and equipment, as well as other items for the welfare of county inmates.
Officials said the thefts occurred on at least 50 occasions between approximately February 2004 to June of 2009. Lepiane deposited the money into her personal bank account or used it to pay for personal online shopping purchases.
In an emailed release today, Michael C. Ormsby, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, said, ““It is a privilege to serve in law enforcement. Individuals who abuse that role and betray the public’s trust for their personal benefit will be aggressively investigated and prosecuted.”
He also cautioned the public not to let Lepiane’s theft undermine their confidence in other public servants and the work performed by the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office.
Laura Laughlin, special agent-in-charge of the FBI Seattle Division, added: “The vast majority of law enforcement officials are honorable public servants who perform their duties with the utmost integrity, and, sometimes, at great personal cost.
“However, in those rare instances when these officials violate their duty to uphold the law and instead commit crimes themselves, the FBI will conduct a thorough, impartial investigation to preserve and restore public trust and confidence.”
In a statement issued in October, College Place Mayor Rick Newby said the case is not expected to affect Dennis Lepiane’s employment as the city’s police chief.
“Based on the investigation, it appears Ms. Lepiane acted alone and no allegations against others have been made,” Newby said. “Chief Lepiane has served our community with honor and integrity for many years and I have every confidence he will continue to do so as move forward.”
According to the documents filed in federal court, the county Prosecuting Attorney’s office has agreed that in exchange for Lepiane’s guilty plea it will not bring charges in state court regarding the thefts.