The founders of a Spokane children’s charity face a federal trial March 4 on charges of stealing food subsidies for the poor.
The trial was scheduled Monday after Letha Collins, 53, and her son, Darryl Hutchison, 32, backed out at the last minute of a plea bargain they reached with prosecutors.
The pair, who now live in Columbia Falls, Mont., were indicted in September after a long federal investigation of their defunct charity, QUESTS Corp.
The charity collected $200,000 in donations, including money from Spokane-area foundations, businesses and trusts.
It also obtained more than 100 tons of food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Spokane Food Bank.
Much of the free food was wasted, fraudulently used or illegally resold by QUESTS, federal investigators confirmed after a published account in 1993 about the activities.
The Mead-based charity didn’t have group homes for foster kids or a soup kitchen for feeding the poor as its officers claimed in sworn affidavits.
The state Attorney General’s office filed a civil suit in 1994 against QUESTS, Collins and Hutchison.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Owen “Fritz” Clarke obtained a summary judgment in Superior Court against QUESTS, Collins and Hutchison on Jan. 8.
A state judge ordered the defendants to pay $329,619 in restitution and penalties.
The civil judgment says Collins and Hutchison violated the state’s Charitable Solicitations Act. It prohibits them from engaging in solicitations in Washington until the restitution and penalties are paid.
Just last week, the state obtained $30,800 in partial restitution from a lien placed on a home at 12605 N. Meadowlark in Mead where Collins and Hutchison lived.
The pair sold the home for $1 to their charity to avoid taxes. The home was sold Jan. 5 for $102,000.
Before the state filed its legal action, the QUESTS founders sold their 120-acre ranch near Deer Park that Collins bought while she was getting welfare.
The only criminal charges against the pair came in U.S. District Court, following an investigation by the Department of Agriculture.
Attorneys for Collins and Hutchison reached a tentative plea bargain with federal prosecutors, and were scheduled to enter guilty pleas on Monday.
With those guilty pleas, they likely would have received lighter sentences for “acceptance of responsibility.”
But late last week the defendants changed their minds and now want a jury trial, their attorneys told U.S. District Court Judge Robert Whaley on Monday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Rice told the judge the complicated case likely will last two weeks.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: RESTITUTION The state Attorney General’s Office collected $30,800 to partially satisfy a $329,619 civil judgment against the defunct QUESTS Corp. Restitution will be distributed as follows: First Interstate, $50; Washington Trust Bank, $300; Seafirst, $2,174; Safeco Insurance, $1,000. GTE Northwest, $985; Hewlett-Packard, $1,035; Pacific Gas Transmission, $1,200. Junior League of Spokane, $1,918; Skinner Foundation, $600; David and Dorothy Pierce Trust, $1,170. Mountaineers Foundation, $400; Leuthold Foundation, $5,000, Comstock Foundation, $10,430. The remaining $4,538 goes to the attorney general’s office to help cover legal costs.