It was Mary Ellen Miller’s secret for 17 years.
Year after year, she pilfered money from a Spokane construction company - until the grand total approached a half-million dollars and suspicions were belatedly aroused.
But Miller, the former office manager for the family-owned business, swears she never told a soul. Not even her husband, who spent lots of the ill-gotten cash on race cars.
“I did not tell anyone. I did not tell my husband,” she wrote in court documents filed Wednesday. “I’m sorry for the pain I have caused…”
The 46-year-old Spokane Valley woman will spend the next five years in prison for the monstrous embezzlement - one of the biggest and most persistent in county history. Sentencing is set for April 21.
“She’s truly sorry and ready to take her punishment,” said her lawyer, John Clark.
Because she has no prior criminal convictions, she faced a standard-range sentence of zeroto-90 days in jail.
But authorities insisted on prison because of the amount of money stolen and the trust that was shattered in the process.
Miller was a longtime employee who became the top financial officer at Hazen & Clark Inc., a construction company based on West Boone.
She was promoted from bookkeeper to office manager in 1976, the year the thefts began.
Over the next 17 years, Miller issued herself about 200 unauthorized “paychecks” totaling $294,000, and abused company credit cards and accounts at retail stores, according to police.
In 1992 alone, she stole $35,000. It wasn’t to put food on the table. Her salary that year: $47,000, including bonuses.
Why did she do it? Her lawyer doesn’t know.
“She can’t explain it,” he said.
Hazen & Clark’s hidden financial problems were revealed in a 1993 audit, ordered when the family business was sold and reorganized as Leone & Keeble Inc.
The new owners limited Miller’s duties and cut her salary. She complained and was fired a short time later.
Police were alerted in September 1993, after an extensive review of bank records and invoices led to Miller.
She and her husband, Gary Miller, 53, were arrested last May. Both were charged with first-degree theft.
He pleaded guilty Tuesday to third-degree theft, a misdemeanor. Prosecutors have agreed not to ask for any jail time at sentencing April 14.
His likely punishment, recommended by both sides: 240 hours of community service followed by two years of probation.
Gary Miller is a former stock car racing champion who operates his own business, G&M; Racing Parts, and builds race cars.
In an interview last year, he admitted using Hazen & Clark charge accounts for various purchases, including automotive parts and tools. But he said he thought his wife was reimbursing the company.
“I thought we were using their discounts and she was paying it all back,” he told The SpokesmanReview.
As part of the plea bargain, the defendants have agreed to pay restitution of $441,000, representing the amount of stolen money that could be documented.
The couple will sell their home to cancel some of the debt, according to Deputy Prosecutor Claude Montecucco.
Former Hazen & Clark co-owner Lee Walker declined to comment Wednesday.
But one family member, who wished not to be identified, greeted the plea bargain with relief.
“We’re just grateful that it’s over,” she said.