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Candidate’s husband under suspicion

Mitch Short’s actions as fair treasurer probed

The husband of 7th Legislative District candidate Shelly Short may face criminal charges in the alleged theft of $3,318 from a volunteer fair organization.

Colville Police Chief Damond Meshishnek said his department is nearing completion of an investigation into financial irregularities reported June 16 by the Northeast Washington Fair Association.

Short’s husband, Mitch J. Short, 46, was president of the association at the time.

The case is being investigated as a possible first-degree theft, and a report is expected to go to the Stevens County prosecutor’s office soon, Meshishnek said.

There is no indication that Shelly Short, also 46, was involved in the alleged embezzlement.

Mitch Short declined to comment except to call the timing of a newspaper inquiry “a political smear job at its worst.”

“Allowing this to happen to anyone in the public eye sends a chilling message to anyone considering public service,” he said in e-mail statement.

A relative of a fair association board member told The Spokesman-Review about the audit, figuring it was information voters should have.

Shelly Short did not respond to requests for comment Friday that were left with her husband and on her cell phone.

Short is solidly positioned in the five-way, all-Republican primary race for the position being vacated by state Rep. Bob Sump. She has Sump’s endorsement and years of political experience.

Short ran U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt’s Colville office for 10 years, and was U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ deputy district director for a couple of years.

She resigned this spring as state Rep. Joel Kretz’s senior legislative assistant – a state job she had held since fall 2006 – so she could run for Sump’s position.

Sump stood behind his endorsement Friday.

“I see this as not at all relevant,” he said. “Shelly is not under investigation. Shelly is not facing an indictment even if one is forthcoming.”

He said he has complete confidence in her ability as a legislator.

Superior Court records show the Shorts were under pressure to repay more than $11,000 in credit card debt at the time fair association records show Mitch Short began drawing cash from the group’s checking account.

Discover Bank won a $12,328 judgment against the couple last August, and the debt had grown to $13,353 by March, according to court records.

An audit by the fair association’s new treasurer, Michel Pitts, indicates Mitch Short made four unauthorized cash withdrawals from the organization’s checking account in June, July and August last year.

Also without authorization, he transferred the association’s money to a new bank account and had statements sent to his home, according to the audit.

The fair association’s new president, Mike LeCaire, who took over in November, emphasized that no county money was involved. Also, he said fair manager Lori Matlock, a county employee, wasn’t involved.

The fair association is a group of volunteers that gets its money from fundraisers, LeCaire said.

“It just keeps the spirit of volunteerism alive up here at the county fair,” he said.

Nine directors are elected by people who earn their association membership by attending meetings.

The private association underwrites some fair events and improvements to the county fairgrounds. One of its projects last year was to bring a traveling circus to the fair.

Over his objections, LeCaire said, the circus operator’s request to be paid in cash was granted.

But the audit shows Mitch Short wrote two cash checks last year – on June 11 and 13 – to withdraw twice the $1,318.20 the circus was owed.

LeCaire said he questioned Short about the discrepancy, and Short told him, “Oh, I have the paperwork for that.”

Asked to produce the documents, Short instead reimbursed the association for the duplicate withdrawal and resigned from the board, LeCaire said. That was last September.

Meanwhile, LeCaire said, board members were slow to realize they were no longer receiving bank statements.

“We were in ignorant bliss,” he said.

Board members supposed at first that their bank statements got lost in the mail or were mixed up with Stevens County’s mail, LeCaire said.

Then the association’s new treasurer, Pitts, discovered in March that statements had been diverted to Short’s home address. She launched an audit and found three more undocumented cash checks Short wrote in July and August last year, for a total of $2,000.

Confronted about the checks, Short gave the association a $2,000 cashier’s check in May, according to Pitts’ audit.

Pitts also reported that Short had created another checking account and transferred $4,000 into it. She put the money back and closed the new account.

LeCaire said the board plans to start requiring two signatures on association checks.

“Money is hard to come by, and we want to keep the trust of the people and put on a fair,” he said. “I just want to move ahead.”