OLYMPIA — A Spokane County Superior Court judge today sentenced former Spokane County worker Rhonda Sue Ackerman to serve prison time and repay $1,378,541 in stolen public funds, following Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s prosecution of the case. Ackerman pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree theft in October.
Ackerman was employed as a liability claims technician and stole $1.38 million over the course of a decade from Spokane County by filing dozens of fake claims. She then directed the claimants, many of whom were relatives or friends of her son, to cash the checks and deliver the bulk of the funds back to Ackerman. According to the state’s charging documents, Ackerman spent the money on frequent gambling, new cars and lavish gifts.
At a hearing Wednesday afternoon, Judge Raymond Clary sentenced Ackerman to one year and one day in prison, as well as full restitution.
“Justice was done today,” Ferguson said. “This prosecution sends an important message: My prosecutors and I will hold those who engage in public corruption accountable.”
Ackerman was arraigned in October of 2021 for the theft charge. Her fraud scheme was discovered when the County Auditor’s Office found an uncashed check for $8,963.45. The check prompted an internal investigation and a follow-up investigation by the Washington State Auditor, as well as criminal investigations by the Spokane Police Department and Attorney General’s Office. The Internal Revenue Service also conducted a criminal investigation.
Ackerman developed a check-cashing operation to finance her gambling habit. Ackerman conducted this fraud between 2007 and 2016, when she was an employee in Spokane County’s Department of Risk Management. Investigators found that she filed fake claims against Spokane County on behalf of people she knew, and directed them to cash the checks and return most of the money to her.
The 45 “claimants” included relatives, family friends, and friends of her then 18-year-old son. Ms. Ackerman gave each “claimant” $100 to $200 for each check cashed. She gave her son $100 to $300 per check for accompanying his friends to the bank. Investigators found that Ms. Ackerman used the trust and access she had as a liability claims technician and as a parent to run the fraud scheme.
The Attorney General’s Office prosecuted the case after receiving and accepting a referral from the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office. Under state law and the Washington State Constitution, the Attorney General’s Office cannot investigate or prosecute a criminal violation without receiving and accepting a referral. The Attorney General’s Office often handles cases for county prosecutors when they have a conflict, including when a county employee is alleged to have committed a crime. Consequently, the Attorney General’s Office specializes in handling cases involving public corruption or other malfeasance by public employees.
Without accepting a referral, the Attorney General’s Office has no jurisdiction over criminal matters.
The Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office referred the matter to the Attorney General’s Office to avoid conflict of interest, since the suspect and most witnesses in the case were current or former county employees, and the funds were taken from the county.
Assistant Attorney General Barbara Serrano and Paralegal Jennifer Payne handled the case for the state.
Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.firstname.lastname@example.org
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