This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
It’s hard to believe, but there is a bright side to the tawdry tale of a Lakewood police officer accused of embezzling money meant for the families of four murdered fellow officers.
It was yet another Lakewood officer, Jeremy Vahle, who got suspicious that money might have been diverted from the Fallen Officers’ Fund, a trust established to help the families of the four Lakewood officers shot to death in November 2000: Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards.
Instead of sweeping the embarrassment under the rug and handling it behind closed doors, the Lakewood Police Department faced it head-on. Under Chief Bret Farrar, evidence was gathered and presented to Pierce County prosecutors. They forwarded it to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for further action.
The Fallen Officers’ Fund, which accrued more than $3.2 million, is administered by the Lakewood Police Guild’s charitable division. The union’s treasurer, Skeeter Manos, has been charged with 10 federal counts of wire fraud in diverting at least $151,000 in donations meant for the trust fund to his own secret account.
Prosecutors say Manos started stealing donations less than two months after the murders and that he spent the money on gambling sprees and to buy expensive toys, including his and hers snowboarding gear, a computer and flat-screen TV. The money paid for a gambling trip for Manos and his wife to Las Vegas, where they stayed at the deluxe Bellagio Hotel.
Money donated in good faith by heartbroken citizens in the aftermath of one of the worst tragedies a community can experience was frittered away on shiny toys and gambling? If the charges are proved, Manos will deserve every day of the 20 years in federal prison he could get as a sentence.
The families of the four officers, the Lakewood community and its police force have been through so much that this kind of betrayal – by an officer charged with upholding the law – must sting all the more.
Thanks to those upstanding officers who brought this shameful episode to light. And a postscript to the Lakewood Police Guild: If your treasurer was, indeed, stealing from the children of dead officers, you might want to take a close look at your own books.