White-Collar Crime

$70K in drug-court vouchers were given to nonparticipants by county employee, state audit says

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A newly released Washington state audit has disclosed that a Yakima County employee responsible for giving vouchers to drug court participants may have funneled more than $70,000 of the funds to people not participating in the program.

Rene Prado went to work in 2006 for the Yakima County Human Services Department, which oversees the vouchers, the Yakima Herald reports. She had a 2002 conviction for forgery and possession of stolen property, according to the Herald, but at the time the department was not conducting criminal background checks on new employees.

In her job, Prado was allowed access to a statewide voucher program to create accounts and issue vouchers, and the county did not have an independent review of drug court vouchers, the Herald reports. Those vouchers were intended to pay for things like rent, utilities and food for drug court participants.

Prado was arrested in February. Investigators initially thought that she misappropriated approximately $8,000 in vouchers between December 2013 and January 2014. After her arrest, the state Auditor’s Office launched an investigation into her actions from March 2013 to January 2015. That audit determined that the amount of misappropriated funds was much higher: $72,289.

According to the article, the audit also found that ineligible people used the vouchers for rent, utility bills and multiple sets of new vehicle tires.

Referrals for the vouchers didn’t have authentic signatures from counselors, the Yakima Herald reports, and multiple vouchers were given to couples on the same date. Recipients were also getting more vouchers than the program allows during a one-month time period.

In February, Prado was charged with one count of first-degree theft and four counts of identity theft. Joe Brusic, the Yakima County prosecuting attorney, has said that he will be looking at the additional findings, to determine if he needs to bring additional charges. The Herald reports that it’s not clear yet if people besides Prado will be charged, but that Yakima County has now instituted more oversight of the voucher program.

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