No charges in possible theft of state money

MOUNT VERNON — No charges will be filed against a family near Rockport that kept $345,000 in state taxpayer money, allegedly for expenses that already had been paid for by the county, the county prosecutor said Thursday.

Prosecutor Rich Weyrich said the statute of limitations has run out on potential charges of theft of taxpayer funds against the Bullerville Utility District. The district serves property owned by a single family that also owns a resort called Clark’s Cabins.

Weyrich said he has sent the state auditor a letter notifying the office of his decision.

“It’s three years after they got the money,” Weyrich said. “It’s bad for the taxpayers, bad for us, I guess.”

Weyrich said he had someone in his office look at the case “very carefully” before making his decision. But Weyrich said the county couldn’t find another way to charge the district, and the statute of limitations on the possible theft charge began to run when they the Bullerville district received the money four years ago.

“We did not have any alternative but to not file charges,” Weyrich said.

The district applied for and received a $350,000 grant from Skagit County in 2003 to improve its water system. The money from the grant came from an eighttenths of 1 percent countywide sales tax intended to encourage local businesses to either add or retain local jobs.

However, the utility district did not have the money to pay contractors up front. Instead, Skagit County paid for the work directly when the district submitted invoices for it.

The district also submitted all 121 of those invoices to the state Department of Commerce, which reimbursed the district for $345,625 all at once in October 2008, according to the state auditor.

C o m m e r c e d i d n o t know the county had already paid those expenses — and if it had, would not have given Bullerville the money, Commerce staff said in a statement responding to the audit.

The state auditor spent almost a year researching the district’s transactions and referred the case to the county prosecutor in September 2012.

Bullerville Utility District Board President Don Clark said he was unaware of the prosecutor’s decision not to file charges.

“I haven’t had a chance to look into it, so I don’t have any view,” he said. “I have no public view at this point. I have no idea what’s going on. I have no information. I would not respond to anyone until I look into it.”

Skagit County Commissioner Sharon Dillon, who was on the committee to award Bullerville county money to improve its utility system, said the project seemed like a good candidate because there was planned residential expansion in the area. Water from the project would have served many homes.

“If you charge them (with a crime), then there would be ramifications of them paying it (the money) back,” she said. “They don’t have the money to pay it back to begin with.”

Commerce’s statement attached to the September 2012 audit report said the department would try to get back all the state money the district spent on things the county paid for.

County records show the property owners were facing foreclosure late last year. The status of the action could not be verified by press time Thursday.

The district includes about 125 acres in Skagit County, all of which the commissioners own, either personally or through business interests that include a resort and a restaurant, the report states. The district leases the land for the water system from the commissioners’ businesses.