Ex-McCleary utility clerk gets two years in jail for theft

MONTESANO — Grays Harbor Superior Court Judge Mark McCauley last week sentenced a former McCleary utility account manager to two years in jail for the crime of “theft in the first degree as a major economic offense” with aggravating factors.

Ardyce M. Taylor, of Olympia, had pleaded guilty to the crime this past December. McCauley ordered that she be taken to jail immediately.

Taylor is accused of misappropriating $53,009 from city utility accounts by writing manual warrants to the city of McCleary and then applying them to her personal account, entering negative cash receipt adjustments on her utility account to reduce the negative balance on her account and reduce the city’s daily deposit and entering negative billing adjustments to reduce her own utility account balance and offset city checks posted to her account, according to a Feb. 25 brief submitted by the county prosecutor’s office. The confirmed amounts were ongoing from Jan. 27, 2005 to April 9, 2010.

McCauley ordered Taylor to pay the city back $53,009, along with the cost of the investigation valued at $15,065.

A state Auditor’s Office investigation also found another $403,799 in “questionable” adjustments, but Grays Harbor Deputy Prosecutor Jim Baker said there was not enough evidence to seek reimbursement of those amounts.

“I really wish there would have been,” Baker said “That’s a lot of money to just disappear. … The investigators were able to find a paper trail on what we could, but not the rest.”

Baker said there was some circumstantial evidence to suggest Taylor may have been misappropriating funds for years. Taylor started work for the city in 1996.

“As the city’s utilities account manager, the defendant had complete access to and control over the city’s utility billing system, allowing her to make adjustments to her personal utility account and using city money to post payments to her personal utility account,” he wrote. “The defendant also adjusted other customer’s utility accounts for the purpose of crediting the defendant’s own personal account.”

She was terminated from the city after police seized her computer in April of 2010 and the state Auditor’s Office began its investigation, which lasted almost two years.

At the podium, Taylor simply apologized for her action, while a sister asked the judge to show leniency, noting she had a good heart. After she was caught, she was cooperative with investigators, her attorney noted.

No one from the city spoke, although the judge and the attorneys from both sides received a letter from a former McCleary employee, who asked the judge “to impose a harsh sentence upon Ms. Taylor so that the community may feel that justice has been served.”

“I believe that Ms. Taylor’s actions were especially shocking because she took advantage of her position to defraud the people of McCleary, a poor community that can hardly endure such a financial loss,” the letter states.

Baker said that as a first-time offender, Taylor could have gotten away with a sentencing range of no jail time to 90 days. The maximum sentence could have been up to 10 years, but that would have been if she had more of a criminal background with a higher “offender score.”

Taylor’s signed statement on her plea of guilty states, “I admit that my actions alleged in the information involved multiple incidents of theft against the victim — the city of McCleary — and that I used my position of trust, confidence or fiduciary responsibility to commit the crime of theft.”

McCleary Mayor Gary Dent said by phone that he was disappointed that the Prosecutor’s Office only charged her with one felony count. Dent said that he thought there was room for additional theft charges since so much money is missing. Dent said that the city’s insurance company has covered $50,000 to $60,000 that the city lost, but that still leaves more than $400,000 missing. Dent said because Taylor wasn’t held accountable for those missing funds, the insurance company won’t cover it.

“To be honest, and I had the city’s attorney communicate this to the Prosecutor’s Office, I was hoping she would have gotten at least five years,” Dent said