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