Doneia A. Santiago turns to hug family members goodbye following her sentencing hearing this morning in Lewis County Superior Court.
Updated at 6:25 p.m.
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – The now-former Mossyrock city clerk-treasurer is heading to prison with a five year sentence for embezzling what the mayor says comes to more than $67,000.
Doneia A. Santiago, 53, came to Lewis County Superior Court in Chehalis today, free on a signature bond since her June arrest, and was taken into custody at the end of the hearing.
Defense attorney Don Blair didn’t ask the judge for a particular amount of time for his client, but noted she was cooperative after the mayor approached her and left her job without taking her final paycheck. She even borrowed a large sum of money from a friend in an attempt to begin repaying the loss, but prosecutors wouldn’t accept it as part of a deal for less time, he said.
“She got into a situation where she was short on funds and started using the city’s bank account to pay her mortgage,” Blair told the judge. “Clearly she regrets that.”
The defendant told the court she was very sorry.
Santiago was charged initially with first-degree theft, for what at first looked like less than $8,000 taken over a less than three-year period. By mid-July, documents were filed indicating investigators found evidence more than $37,000 was taken. A deal was struck in which she pleaded guilty to nine counts of first-degree identity theft earlier this month.
Mossyrock Mayor Tom Meade addressed the court, on behalf of the town’s 750 residents, he said, about how Santiago breached the public’s trust.
“She failed completely in her duties,” Meade said. “It’s an example of why people have lost faith in government.”
Meade spoke of stolen credit cards, late night transfers, false invoices submitted to the council and a scheme so complex even three audits by the state missed it.
“She was that clever, she was that good at it,” the mayor said.
Mayor Meade said some of her family members should be ashamed of themselves for what he claimed was participation in the wrongdoing.
More than a dozen apparent supporters sat in the benches behind Santiago, including family. Roughly the same number, including city council members, were on the other side of the courtroom with the mayor.
Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Paul Masiello recommended to the judge Santiago get five years, plus community custody following her release and pay various fines and fees. Restitution will be determined at a future date, he said. Masiello looked to the mayor for the preliminary number of $67,079.95.
“With the conduct in this case and the length of time it went on, we think 60 months is appropriate,” he said.
Judge Nelson Hunt agreed with the state, saying it’s his experience that almost everyone caught embezzling comes up with excuses and then apologizes.
“The jail time starts right now,” Hunt said.
Outside the courtroom, Masiello said the particular charges to which she was convicted helped the state get the amount of time it sought, and because of the sentencing guidelines, keeping the theft charges would not have resulted in a longer sentence.
Santiago started working for the central Lewis County city in August 2013 and was terminated in June.
The deputy clerk, Daydra Stewart, was confirmed by the council as acting city clerk-treasurer in July. Mayor Meade suggested they are in no hurry to make a final decision about a new clerk-treasurer.
“We’re going to let some time pass,” he said.
For background, read “Former Mossy city clerk pleads guilty to putting city funds in personal account” from Wednesday September 7, 2016, here