The mayor of the small town of Springdale in southern Stevens County is facing dozens of counts of identity theft, with investigators alleging she funneled money from a town-owned credit card into her own bank accounts.
Elizabeth Calderwood said Tuesday that she was “a horrible record-keeper” but that the purchases on the credit card were legitimate attempts to refurbish a town community center, with internet access for rural residents.
“I have a mess to wade through,” said Calderwood, who said she read the charging documents for the first time Tuesday afternoon and had not yet hired an attorney.
Calderwood, 42, is scheduled to be arraigned before a Stevens County Superior Court judge July 13 on 62 counts of identity theft and five counts of theft. Investigators began looking into Calderwood’s finances after town officials in Springdale raised concerns in January about accounting problems as they began reconciling their books for the end of the year.
Elected mayor of the town of not quite 300 people in November 2017 by a margin of a single vote, Calderwood took a leave of absence in January, during the investigation. The town’s mayor pro tem, Stefany Smith, has been presiding over town council meetings in Calderwood’s absence.
Investigators allege Calderwood made personal purchases of art and gardening supplies with a credit card issued to the town’s public works director. They also allege Calderwood pocketed $5,000, the proceeds of a sale of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and trailer that had been gifted to the city. Finally, they allege that Calderwood took cash out of several ATM machines in Airway Heights and elsewhere, as well as coordinated the online transfer of funds from the city-owned credit card to several people who then put the money back into her personal accounts beginning in April 2019 and then intensifying at the end of December.
Charging documents show that the town’s finance committee attempted to reconcile accounts with Calderwood, who “would make excuses or get angry and the committee would drop the question to keep the (peace).” She told the city the transfers in December were inadvertently made on the city card, when she’d intended to make the transfers herself as Christmas presents, and Calderwood said she’d pay the money back.
In all, it is believed about $12,000 in expenses remain unexplained.
Calderwood said the art and gardening supplies that were discovered at her home were intended to be used on the community center. She maintained that the credit card transfers were a mistake and flatly denied taking the $5,000, noting someone would have to be “a special kind of stupid” if they thought they could take $5,000 that belonged to the city without it being discovered. The money was supposed to be placed in a safe at town hall and then taken to the bank, but it was never deposited, according to investigators.
The motorcycle was purchased by the father of Calderwood’s boyfriend.
Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen said the number of alleged uses of the “wrong” credit card by the mayor indicated they weren’t inadvertent.
“Because the public has a right to expect elected officials to do their duty and to be careful with public funds, I consider breaches of that trust to be serious matters,” Rasmussen said. “Accidents happen, but a pattern of misconduct demonstrates intentional behavior.”
“I’m just not accustomed to the red tape of government,” Calderwood said.
Springdale has run afoul of state auditors in recent years for shortcomings in its record keeping and reporting of payroll expenses. Last March, the town’s marshal faced criminal charges after lying about his actions in a car chase.
Smith said she intended to continue serving as mayor of the town until Calderwood makes a decision about her future. Calderwood has a deadline in August to decide whether she’ll step down, a decision she said she hadn’t made, but it would be difficult to return to town government following the filing of criminal charges.
“I absolutely want to,” said Calderwood of returning to town government, noting she’d lived in town for years and raised her children there. “Will I? Not likely.”
State law prevents someone who’s been convicted of a felony and is in custody of the Department of Corrections from holding or running for public office. All of the counts sought by prosecutors are felonies.
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