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Calls by Washam’s office for criminal investigation raise questions of ‘impropriety,’ prosecutor’s office says

Post by Kris Sherman / The News Tribune on Oct. 15, 2010 at 10:49 am | 14 Comments »
October 15, 2010 1:40 pm

Calls by Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam‘s office for a criminal investigation into the actions of his predecessor raise questions of impropriety, “if not worse,” the prosecutor’s office says.

Dale Washam

In the latest back-and-forth between Washam’s office and other county officials. Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Doug Vanscoy wrote on Thursday that questions about whether the public was harmed by skipped physical property inspections had been asked and answered. (You can read his letter here.)  Prosecutor’s letter

Deputy Assessor-Treasurer Alberto Ugas filed a criminal complaint with Sheriff Paul Pastor on Oct. 4, claiming “conspiracy to defraud, forgery and falsification of official public records” in took place in Madsen’s office from 2001-2008. Alberto Ugas Criminal Complaint

Vanscoy’s letter was in response to an Oct. 12 request from Ugas that Prosecutor Mark Lindquist “stand up for taxpayers…by initiating an investigation into the allegations set forth in my criminal complaint.” Letter from Deputy Assessor-Treasurer Alberto Ugas to Prosecutor Mark Lindquist

Ugas contends in both his complaint to Pastor and his letter to Lindquist that Madsen’s office unlawfully carried out “forgeries and falsifications” of public records after skipping physical property inspections required by the state. Those actions hopelessly corrupted the tax rolls and harmed taxpayers, Ugas and Washam contend.

Vanscoy, responding to Ugas at Lindquist’s request, wrote in part: “Your own investigative report attempts…to link the Madsen issues to a former employee who has a pending EEO complaint against Mr. Washam, raising a question whether your importuning for a criminal investigation has the appearance of impropriety, if not worse.” Prosecutor’s letter to Washam

Vanscoy also told Washam and Ugas the prosecutor’s office has repeatedly said it doesn’t conduct criminal investigations but rather relies on the investigations of police agencies to decide whether criminal charges are warranted.

In a separate letter, Pastor told Washam and his staff that the Sheriff’s Department would make a preliminary assessment of Ugas’ complaint but that it would be up to the prosecutor’s office to pursue any charges. Sheriff’s letter

A portion of Pastor’s letter to Ugas reads: “Thank you (for) forwarding what you have identified as a ‘Criminal Complaint’ and request for investigation.  First, you should know that there is no such thing as a ‘Criminal Complaint.’  So, what I am doing is treating this as a request for an investigation.  However, given the volume of information which you have provided, an initial assessment will take some time.

Washam has been seeking an investigation into the practices of Madsen and his staff for several years. In 2005, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee threw out Washam’s recall petition against Madsen, saying it showed no evidence that Madsen intentionally broke the law.

Washam, who was elected  Assessor-Treasurer in 2008 and took office in 2009, continues to make allegations against Madsen and the work of Madsen’s staff and press for criminal investigations.

In April, an  independent county investigation found that Washam was correct that inspections were skipped. But many officials have said there’s no proof taxpayers were harmed.

Madsen’s office, in the midst of a computer conversion and slammed by a booming property market in some of those years, made statistical appraisals of many properties rather than in-person assessments. State law requires physical inspection of each property at least once every six years.

Earlier this year, Washam refused to certify the county’s tax rolls, saying they were tainted by the missed inspections and that some property owners were undoubtedly paying more than their share of taxes while others were paying less because thousands of properties weren’t properly appraised.

The State Department of Revenue  said Washam’s action would have no effect on potential property tax appeals.  Many officials have said there’s no proof taxpayers were harmed by the missed inspections,which Madsen’s office occurred during a computer conversion.

Last month, both the state attorney general and the governor’s office told Washam they would not pursue a criminal investigation into Madsen’s office. Brian T. Moran, chief deputy attorney general, and Narda Pierce, general counsel to Gov. Christine Gregoire, each wrote to Washam that the matter had been reviewed by the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office and they could see no reason to pursue it further.

The Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office “has reviewed your request and declined to investigate the allegations on at least two separate occasions,” Pierce wrote. She referred to letters written by then Prosecutor Gerald Horne on May 11, 2009, and by Vanscoy on Jan. 27.

Washam, meanwhile, faces allegations of mistreatment of employees in his own office. There have been a series of probes into his conduct, and independent investigators have found that Washam violated state and federal laws by retaliating against an employee who disagreed with him.

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