Past Crimes: Looking back at MT conviction of Franklin Co. Finance Director accused of theft

PASCO, Wash. -- KEPR continues to peel back the layers on the former Franklin County official under suspicion of stealing more than a million dollars of taxpayer money.

Dennis Huston remains a free man, but multiple criminal charges are pending for theft, money laundering, and drug possession.

Action News gained access to documents of the previous case against him for theft of government money in Billings, Montana. Now, Washington's Attorney General is investigating Huston for much of the same trouble he was in back in the 1980s.

The federal court papers show a pattern of theft and drug addiction for Huston. While living in Billings, Montana, he served as the Regional Finance Officer for the Bureau of Reclamation.

It was there the FBI began to investigate, and charged him with three counts of theft over a seven month span, for a total of more than $140,000. He was ultimately sentenced to four years behind bars, and ordered to pay back more than $100,000 of what he stole.

The documents also paint a bleak picture of the impact that had on Huston and his family. Attorneys say the family had to sell off their possessions just to get by. They lost their house because they couldn't afford to make the mortgage payment, and his wife was forced to file for food stamps.

Letters attesting to his character insisted Huston's mistake was a "once-in-a lifetime" occurrence, and placed blame squarely on a drug addiction. Action News news also learned he successfully completed inpatient treatment for substance abuse.

One co-worker said Huston "has punished himself a thousand times over for what he'd done."

A friend felt the theft was "completely out of character."

And yet another said his actions under the influence were "totally opposed to his true value system."

Despite the pleas for leniency, the court stood by its sentence.

A short time after his release from prison, Huston was hired in Franklin County. KEPR discovered he did not undergo a background check. So far, there's no formal indication of when the thefts may have started. But authorities believe it took place for years, before ever being discovered during a routine audit earlier this month.

Pasco Police say Huston already admitted to the theft, saying he was still fueling a drug habit. And while he remains a free man now, authorities say they are building their case and charges will be coming.

Huston was officially fired from Franklin County Wednesday, despite a lack of formal charges being filed from the state.

County leaders say he admitted a drug problem and that violates policy.

While the investigation continues, there are still eight other Public Works employees who are on paid leave. They have not been accused of any wrongdoing but it is unclear when they could be back to work.