Computers hauled out of Franklin County Public Works, concerns taxpayer money stolen

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Wash. -- KEPR is always looking into the use of taxpayer money -- and the allegation that some of that money was stolen has people off the job. In fact, nine people are on paid leave from Franklin County Public Works. This includes the head of accounting, Dennis Huston, 64. He's now in jail on fraud and money laundering charges. The State Attorney General's Office is digging into the county's books.

Car loads of files, laptops and hard drives were removed from the Public Works Department Thursday.

A shock to taxpayers and co-workers, as the Director of Accounting and Administration, Huston was recently honored with the Washington Professional Finance Officer award.

KEPR learned, not only did Pasco Police execute search warrants on Huston's office, but on his home as well.

In a news conference Thursday, Franklin County Commissioners explained this began as a typical audit. And it quickly became much more, as discrepancies were found.

Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck released this statement to county employees, and told reporters, "The information that prompted us to contact state officials, that information came out of Mr. Beaton's office."

Franklin County Auditor Matt Beaton added, "Beyond that, I can tell you Franklin County Auditor's office will continue to work with commissioners to further improve our internal controls and make whatever changes are needed."

Commissioner Brad Peck says the theft was just uncovered in the last few weeks. It's still unclear how much tax payer money may have been stolen. But the Commissioner say it's entirely possible the theft has gone on for years.

"This is a lengthy investigation. I would not expect this to be done in days or even weeks. I would expect this to last into months," explained Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant. "These type of cases do take some time, and we want to make sure that we get it right."

County officials made it clear the remaining employees on leave are not yet facing any charges, and we're told they are cooperating in the investigation.

KEPR found out the county is now working on new leadership for the Public Works Department. Huston is being held in the Franklin County Jail.