Judge sends former Lewis County museum director to prison, criticizes disengaged board

Friday, May 3, 2013 at 10:19 pm
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Deborah Sue Knapp sits with her defense attorney Ken Johnson as she is sentenced for theft.

By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Judge Richard Brosey blasted board members of the Lewis County Historical Museum today when he sentenced its now-former executive director for stealing possibly more than $200,000 during her time at the helm.

The theft was brought to light after revelations the non-profit’s endowment fund of more than $460,000 was gone.

Both the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney in the case deny Deborah Sue Knapp took all of it, Brosey said. Both say the museum simply lived beyond its means.

“The endowment apparently was used as a piggy bank,” Brosey said.

Being on a board is not just a ceremonial job where members can attend meetings once in awhile and nod in agreement, it comes with responsibilities, Brosey told a nearly packed courtroom this afternoon.

“I’m going to impose punishment to Mrs. Knapp for what she did,” Brosey said. “But the board of directors has to take an active role. You can’t just sit there and do nothing.”

The Lewis County Superior Court judge said he was personally offended that the heritage of Lewis County was abused, noting how difficult it is to build endowment funds, and how this scandal will make it even harder.

The endowment was in an account meant to be left untouched, so it could generate interest which could be used for operating costs.

“It’s egregious its depleted,” Brosey said.

Knapp was arrested at the end of 2011, five and a half years after she was hired to run the institution that inhabits a former rail station on Northwest Front Way in Chehalis.

After months of trial preparations and negotiations, the now-53-year-old agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a sentencing recommendation. The hope was she could do about 12 months of jail time on work release, if she could find a job.

That didn’t work out.

Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead and defense attorney Ken Johnson’s back up plan was to ask the judge to give her one year plus one day, so she could serve her time in state prison instead of in a county jail.

State prison was at Knapp’s request, in part because it’s better equipped to deal with her ill health, according to her attorney.

The top of the legislatively mandated standard range for the crimes to which she pleaded guilty is 14 months.

Judge Brosey today imposed 14 months and ordered her immediately into custody.

Knapp was taken away in handcuffs, although she had hoped not to check into the jail until the evening before transport to prison, because of issues regarding bringing her heart medication into the jail.

Prosecutors alleged Knapp basically doubled her salary for a period of time, by obtaining “draws” that weren’t subsequently accounted for, writing her own payroll draw checks without anyone else’s knowledge and many times listing them in the check register as voided. She used the museum’s debit card to pay personal expenses, in an amount the two sides don’t agree upon.

Halstead had told the court he believed he could prove she took in excess of $124,000 and said it appeared she took more than $200,000, but that wasn’t provable.

“Reports that over $400,000 was taken by Mrs. Knapp, that’s just not true” Halstead told the court.

He said he knew the deal would make outsiders on both sides unhappy, but he wanted both for her to do time and be able to pay restitution.

Knapp’s attorney told the court his client has already paid $20,000 in restitution, money she borrowed from a relative.

“Mrs. Knapp is ashamed and embarrassed to be in this position,” Johnson said. “She would like to apologize to the entire community.”

He took a moment as well to share his view of the museum’s books, noting it operated without a budget or accountability.

“The endowment was used routinely to balance things out, they were living beyond their means,” Johnson said. “Anyone who’s attempted to blame Mrs. Knapp for that in total is simply mistaken.”

The final deal saw Knapp pleading guilty to five counts of first-degree theft.

Knapp herself addressed the judge only briefly. She said she appreciated the judge’s consideration and she was sorry.

Edward Fund spoke to the court as a member of the museum who has been involved in fundraising over the years.

“I just want people to actually learn from this,” he said.

His wife, former museum board member and newly elected Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund, focused on the betrayal, sharing examples of how she felt Knapp manipulated her and others.

“I didn’t know she would go from a very good friend to someone who would exhaust the museum fund,” Fund said.

The museum’s current board of directors is said to contain both old and new members.
•••

For background, read:

• “Knapp confesses she stole money from Chehalis museum as its director” from Wednesday March 13, 2013, here

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22 Responses to “Judge sends former Lewis County museum director to prison, criticizes disengaged board”

  1. DE-FUND LEWIS COUNTY says:

    What people should learn from this is that anything managed by the honorable council member Edna Fund and her cronies will be crooked as a dog’s hind leg. Her style of governance is petty, crooked and secretive. It is high time for Lewis County to be de-Funded. Isn’t Ms. Fund up for re-election this year?

  2. sumthin2say says:

    this is no different than what politians, judges and govt workers do when they get into a position of power. they up their salaries, get paid vacations, retirements all from a “endowment fund” (national debt) The govt is bankrupt. atleast the historical museum had a balance in the black not the red. I say ur shit stinks too brosey.

  3. sumthin2say says:

    make her pay it back and do some community service. theyre treating her like a bank robber.

  4. Guilty Bystander says:

    Are you for real, Mr. Hubbard? Nearly half a million dollars (all donated) was stolen from an endowment fund and you think Ms. Knapp deserves thanks AND that people here haven’t contributed enough? Do you similarly believe Bernie Madoff’s clients are cheap ingrates?

    No wonder paranormal “investigators” have no more credibility than Miss Cleo.

  5. Me Me Me says:

    “PIHA exist to help generate both media coverage and additional revenue to museums and historical sites in Washington State. ”

    Isn’t that saying that the state uses witchcraft to further their interests??

  6. Vaughn says:

    As founder of PIHA he paranormal group that K Johnson mentioned in her remarks column (Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 10:31 pm) I take offense to her comments and allegations concerning Ms. Knapp and Ms. Gavin’s participation in PIHA
    Quote:
    2. Interestingly, during the time that Gavin was a board officer and Knapp’s supervisor, she was also a partner of Knapp’s in a non-profit paranormal investigation venture. Can you say “conflict of interest?”
    PIHA exist to help generate both media coverage and additional revenue to museums and historical sites in Washington State. Everything that PIHA does is pro-bono and all of our travel expenses are paid for by each VOLUNTEER investigator. Both of these ladies should be thanked for all that they have done and the money they have spent to benefit ALL the museums in Washington State. And what about the Chehalis Museum being featured on national TV. Both ladies were the main spokespersons for that show. How much revenue and mew visitors did that bring in for your museum?
    Without them PIHA would not have existed. What have you done to help your museum??? How much time and/or money have you contributed?
    Please don’t criticize or make allegations concerning something you know nothing about. It’s really offensive!

  7. K Johnson says:

    Kudos to Judge Brosey for blaming the board for their dereliction of duty regarding the theft of the museum endowment fund. The Chronicle has also laid blame on the museum board of directors. But who are those directors?

    No libel here—the following names are taken directly from the museum’s own newsletters.

    In 2007, board members included: Ted Livermore, President; Edna Fund, Vice President; Aileen Carlson, Treasurer; Mindy Thapa, Secretary; and Dennis Dawes, Harold Borovec, Virgil Fox, Wanda Hall, Margie Lloyd, Bob McDole, Kevin Miller, and Larry Nelson.

    By December 2008, the board included: Livermore, Pres.; Kathy Gavin, VP; Carlson, Treasurer; Jan Sylvester, Secretary; and Fund, Dawes, Borovec, McDole, Hall, Bonnie Whittaker, Steve Garrett, Richard Stevens, and Walt King.

    By April 2009, Kathy Gavin had become President; I could not locate a newsletter for that year (or for 2010) which listed all the board members.

    In July 2011, the board included: Gavin, Pres., King, VP; Carlson, Treasurer; Pam Elder, Secretary; and Fund, Dawes, Borovec, Gordon McLeod, Daniel LaPlaunt, and Bill Teitzel.

    Despite Knapp’s sentencing and imprisonment, issues remain.

    1. As late as 2006, the museum’s endowment fund was being managed by an outside investment specialist, who provided annual reports to the board. At some point in 2007 or after, the BOARD had to dismiss the specialist and move the endowment fund into a more liquid form—Knapp could not have done that on her own.

    2. Interestingly, during the time that Gavin was a board officer and Knapp’s supervisor, she was also a partner of Knapp’s in a non-profit paranormal investigation venture. Can you say “conflict of interest?”

    3. Although board members came and went, three people were on the board during Knapp’s entire tenure: Fund, Dawes, and Borovec. Although Fund and Dawes have been touted (by themselves and others) as the “whistle blowers” in this crime, it seems they should also bear a larger burden of guilt since they had the most experience and familiarity with the board’s duties.

    4. Has any board member apologized for his or her part in enabling Knapp’s crime? Not that I’ve heard.

  8. The Dirty Cop Enforcer says:

    Mean while your local drug dealer is out on probation and selling Meth to the Community. Geez was the money Insured? Looks like if you get caught stealing from a City agencey you go to prison, but if you rip off a tax paying citizen you get probation and Drug Court. This lady should of used the cRaCk HeAD EXcUSE she would be on probation now and enjoying the things she had bought with the stolen cash..

  9. eastlewis says:

    How is it that Knapp got unemployment benefits after she was fired

  10. GuiltyBystander says:

    Not only aren’t they being held accountable, one of them is now a County Commissioner. Welcome to the Peter Principle writ large.

  11. J. McAbee says:

    The really surprising thing here is that the board members who hired Ms. Knapp like Edna Fund, Ted Livermore, a local attorney, a former deputy sheriff, and others etc. weren’t held accountable by the citizens of Lewis County. Board members by law have fiduciary oversight and pleading ignorance to her theft is no excuse. Did the board even review the IRS 990s that non profits are required to file every year? Did they even know how to read a profit and loss statement. How many artifacts from the museum were sold under their watch?

  12. Marcus Welby says:

    I think Brosey’s comments were appropriate, given the circumstances. He strikes me as someone who actually cares about his job and is trying to make an impact. My first thought ehen hearing about her sentencing, though, was “who in the world would give this woman a job?”.

    Pretty sure McDonalds wouldn’t even want her.

  13. Bish says:

    True Guilty Bystander but Brosey goes above and beyond. You find me one supreme court justice that degrades the guilty and also show boats about his personal beliefs. It does not happen.

  14. Guilty Bystander says:

    Like Reagan said about Gorbachev and the Soviets, “Trust, but verify.” The museum board should have REQUIRED Ms. Knapp (or their former treasurer) to produce copies bank statements every time they met as a body. Speaking of which, why WAS the treasurer asleep at the switch for so long? Wasn’t it among her duties to reconcile bank transactions so she could catch this sort of malfeasance?

    And by the way, judges have discretion to comment after issuing a ruling. That’s why the U.S. Supreme Court issues opinions after they hear a case, including an opinion dissenting from their ruling. If you disagree with Brosey’s opinion, you’re welcome to do it. But he has the right to speak his mind, as does every judge in this country.

  15. Brian says:

    Well put, Bish!

  16. Bish says:

    Brosey inserts his personal opinions way too much into the judicial system of Lewis County. He is an elected judge, not God. Remember this tax paying voters come next election.

  17. ThinkTWICEinLC says says:

    IN response to Huh?: I think there is a comment either on a previous article here or on the Facebook lewis county sirens group that mentioned something like $170,000 used for refurbishing the exterior of the building and that money supposedly came from the endowment fund, too.

  18. Huh? says:

    I notice that no one seems to know where the other $200k went! Does anyone care? It seems to my limited knowledge of the law, if 400K is missing, and one person is responsible for half of that, then someone else took the other half. Sharyn, is Law Enforcement tracking down those thieves?

  19. BobbyinLC says:

    The judge was quite correct. That was a non- profit organization and they all have a board of directors. These board members are supposed to watch the executive director and are responsible for monitoring the spending of the group.
    It appears that Ms. knapp had full access to the accounts without having to get authorization from the board. Recipe for disaster.

  20. ccrooks says:

    From what I understood from reading this she did get a deal! She didnt meet her end of her deal, she wasnt able to find a job to at while she was in work release. What I think the court system does is offer offenders plea deals that way no matter what the offender is charged with something rather then taking it to trial and the offender possibly getting off on the crime he/she may have or may not of commited! I think alot of times innocent people take pleas deals!

  21. OldLongJohnson says:

    “Very thin ice, I think, to ignore a plea deal worked out by both parties…”

    Not really. According to Lewis County politics you have to be a child rapist or murderer, or a dope dealer to get a sweethear plea deal.

    Since Knapp was neither a child rapist/murderer nor a dope dealer, NO PLEA BARGAIN!!!

  22. ThinkTWICEinLC says:

    While it appears that the sentence ends up being the best for all concerned, did anyone else notice the “plea deal” was ignored? Perhaps not the “law-abiding” folks, but maybe those not so much “law-abiding” folks?

    Word will get out. Plea deals will fail to produce the guilty pleas (cheaper by far than trial) and LC will be forced to pick and choose which cases they choose to even prosecute.

    Very thin ice, I think, to ignore a plea deal worked out by both parties…

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