|Former treasurer charged with stealing thousands from WHS Music Boosters|
|Written by Briana Gerdeman, News Writer|
|Monday, 30 September 2013 12:22|
A woman charged with stealing $6,200 from the Woodinville High School Music Boosters earlier this year was found guilty of attempted felony theft in 2005, according to court documents.
Deana Maureen Palmer, 42, previously known as Deana Drake, was charged with first-degree felony theft because she allegedly stole more than $5,000 between February and April 2013 in her role as the Music Boosters’ treasurer.
Corinne Lawson, the 2012-2013 president of the Music Boosters, said the club’s board discovered the theft after Banner Bank reported suspicious activity.
Lawson explained that during the 2012-2013 school year, several board members resigned or were busy with personal issues, and one month, nobody verified the bank statement.
"That was the month that she started doing some unauthorized withdrawals," Lawson said.
When the other members of the booster club discovered some money was missing, Lawson explained, "We held an emergency meeting and we went through every transaction with a fine-toothed comb."
Surveillance photos and withdrawal slips from Banner Bank showed Palmer making unauthorized cash withdrawals that totaled $4,700 in February through April, according to court documents. There were also two checks, equaling $1,500, issued from the Music Boosters’ account to Palmer’s private company, Eastside Women’s Show.
Lawson estimates the total amount Palmer stole was closer to $7,500, including some cash deposits, but there is no documentation to prove the amount of the cash deposits. The money was supposed to pay for trips, uniforms, festivals and instrument repairs, Lawson said.
According to court documents, Palmer allegedly used card readers to make fraudulent transactions from parents during a winter fundraiser. The charges of more than $500 were tracked to "Eastside Women’s Show," but all the known victims received refunds from their banks, the court documents state.
Palmer was invited to the emergency meeting after the theft was discovered, but she didn’t attend. The other board members unanimously voted her off the board and asked her to resign via email, court documents state. Lawson said the booster club hasn’t heard from Palmer since then.
Although the Music Boosters’ rules require two board members to sign any check, the other member who co-signed the fraudulent checks to Palmer’s company said the checks were blank at the time, court documents explain. The other member said Palmer gave her the impression the blank checks were for teachers to use on a trip in case of an emergency.
"There was a little bit of sleight-of-hand," Lawson said, adding that "we lay no blame on that other person."
Thanks to insurance and donations from the public, the Music Boosters were able to get most of the money they needed, Lawson said. But the experience has prompted them to make some changes.
Now, not only do two people have to sign each check, but a different person must make the deposit. And all board members now must go through a State Patrol background check that screens for felonies.
The club was unaware that Palmer had previously been convicted of theft, Lawson said.
In 2005, Palmer pled guilty to attempted felony theft for faking a sale of phones and service plans, for which she received a commission of $10,705.25, when she worked as an account executive for Nextel Communications in Redmond, according to court documents. She served 30 days of house arrest.
"I have been in touch with other victims of hers — this is not the first or the last," Lawson said.
Elizabeth McDanold says she’s worked with Palmer in two of Palmer’s companies.
McDanold worked as an accountant for Palmer’s company GTX Marketing in the beginning and helped Palmer create the Eastside Women’s Show. McDanold says she lost money to Palmer in several ways — wages that Palmer didn’t pay McDanold and other employees, money that McDanold loaned to Palmer, and McDanold’s money that she invested in the companies.
McDanold said Palmer kept promising to pay her, but in the meantime, McDanold discovered suspicious things on Palmer’s bank statements. When Palmer finally got the money, she spent it on herself rather than pay her employees, McDanold said.
"She eats out all the time. She uses it for her kids’ softball events. Just random junk," McDanold said, adding that Palmer spends up to $15,000 in a month.
McDanold and some of Palmer’s other employees are still in the process of filing claims with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries to get their wages, although "L&I is kind of giving us the runaround," McDanold said.
Since the law views each occurrence of fraud as its own case and most of Palmer’s alleged thefts are under the limits for strict penalties, McDanold said it’s been hard to penalize her for the total amount of money she’s reportedly stolen.
"Everyone’s frustrated because we’ve been seeing this pattern for 14 years now. She finds new victims, new lies," McDanold said. "They [the Music Boosters] really wanted to see a punishment come her way, because she deserves one."
Palmer did not return calls and emails to her companies, GTX Marketing and Eastside Women’s Show.