Guilty plea in McCleary utility theft

A former McCleary utility account manager pleaded guilty Monday to felony theft after an investigation indicated she misappropriated money from the city, including some that went into her personal utility accounts.

Ardyce M. Taylor, 59, of Olympia, pleaded guilty to first-degree theft with an exceptional finding that it was a major economic crime. She’s charged with misappropriating $53,009.90 from utility accouts. The investigation revealed another $403,799.11 in “questionable” adjustments to utility accounts.

Taylor now faces up to 10 years in prison, with the prosecutor recommending two years. The penalty is enhanced despite Taylor’s status as a first-time offender because the crime involved abusing a position of trust, multiple thefts per victim, and taking a large amount of money.

Investigators say she misappropriated from the city in three primary ways: writing manual warrants to “City of McCleary” and paying on her personal account; entering negative cash receipt adjustments on her utility account, reducing the city’s daily deposit; and entering negative billing adjustments to reduce her utility balance and offset city checks posted to her account.

In 2010, Taylor was one of two city employees put on administrative leave for owing money on their utility accounts, which is not allowed for city employees, the auditor’s report said. Mayor Gary Dent said he became suspicious of Taylor, the former billing manager, in the course of observing city employees after he first came into office. He declined to go into detail because of the ongoing criminal investigation.

After a city investigation, the other employee was allowed to return to work and Taylor was terminated. A special investigation from the state auditor was called for, reviewing financial information from January 2005 to April 2010. The findings were issued in a report on Aug. 1 of this year.

Taylor’s sentencing was tentatively set for March 4 because of serious medical issues requiring a medication adjustment.