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Saturday, August 24, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sprague couple charged with misspending thousands of taxpayer dollars

UPDATED: Thu., July 4, 2019, 3:31 p.m.

A married couple who worked for the city of Sprague is accused of misappropriating thousands of taxpayer dollars through fraudulent paychecks and purchases of personal items, including beer, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, energy drinks and fuel for personal vehicles.

Lincoln County prosecutors charged Christie E. Melton, 41, with money laundering and first-degree theft in late April, about a month after the state auditor’s office finished an investigation and published a report on the alleged thefts.

Her husband, Shawn R. Melton, 46, was charged with second-degree theft in July 2018. Neither case has gone to trial, but online court records show he is scheduled to change his plea during a hearing Tuesday.

Auditors found that over several years the couple misappropriated more than $7,200 and made more than $3,600 in “questionable” expenditures for which there were no receipts or city policy was unclear.

The couple’s attorney, Rob Cossey, did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday. An employee at Sprague City Hall said city officials couldn’t comment on the matter.

Sprague is about 35 miles southwest of Spokane along Interstate 90. The city is home to about 450 people and operates on an annual budget of $615,000.

Christie Melton was the city’s clerk-treasurer, and Shawn Melton was a public works employee. They left those jobs in May 2018 and later married while the investigation was underway. Previously, Christie Melton used the last name Saucier.

As clerk-treasurer, she was responsible for approving employees’ time sheets, paychecks and travel reimbursements – including her own, according to the auditors’ report.

“The city did not segregate many key financial duties, or in the absence of segregating, establish adequate monitoring over the clerk-treasurer’s performance of those duties,” the report states. “For example, no one independently reviewed the clerk-treasurer’s fuel and credit card activity or leave balances, and did not compare her time sheet to actual amounts paid.”

The investigation began in early June 2018, just after Saucier and Melton left their jobs.

According to court records, a man called the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office to say he had witnessed Shawn Melton filling his personal pickup truck and several gas cans at a Commercial Fueling Network site in Sprague.

The caller “thought this was suspicious because generally only businesses use a CFN fuel card and he doubted Melton had a CFN card of his own,” the records state.

Officially, Melton’s last day of employment with the city was May 30, 2018, but he had been on leave for a reported back injury since May 11. In that 19-day window, he used the city’s fuel card to make six purchases totaling 111 gallons and $378, according to court records.

The new clerk-treasurer, who replaced Saucier, told Detective Kody Becker that Melton had no reason to spend city money for his personal vehicle because he wasn’t driving it for city business at the time.

The mayor, John Eagleson, told the detective that Melton always should have used city vehicles or sought reimbursements for mileage on his own truck. And Melton’s supervisor said he had written up Melton for missing too much work, according to court records. Melton was allegedly overpaid about $3,000 for vacation and sick time that he had not accrued.

Becker visited Melton and Saucier at their home and questioned them about the gas purchases, which the detective had seen on surveillance video. According to court records, Melton said he believed the purchases were permissible because he planned to take his truck to two doctor’s appointments for his worker’s compensation claim, but he could not explain why he had filled up several gas cans at the city’s expense.

During that interview, Saucier told the detective she had approved Melton’s fuel payments because it was easier than approving mileage reimbursements. But court records say she, too, knowingly took part in fraudulent activity.

“Saucier approved, recorded and falsely documented into the city’s accounting system 56 credit card transactions of her own and 65 credit card transactions of Melton’s without any receipt, apparently to legitimize the expense,” Becker wrote.

“She falsified notes for these transactions and falsely coded them to funds. As an example, Melton purchased beer and cigarettes, and the transaction was entered as ‘street/sewer/water fleet maintenance.’ Saucier purchased gas and cigarettes and described the transaction as ‘supplies.’ ”

Money laundering, first-degree theft and second-degree theft are felonies under Washington law.

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