The former mayor of the small town of Sprindgale in southern Stevens County pleaded guilty this week to 11 criminal counts after a fraud investigation showed the loss of thousands of dollars of public money on her watch.
Elizabeth Calderwood, 43, entered guilty pleas Monday in Stevens County to six counts of theft and five counts of identity theft, according to court records. Those charges state that Calderwood used a town credit card to transfer cash to herself, made fraudulent withdrawals of cash from ATMs with the card, used the card to pay personal cellphone bills and took $5,000 in cash from the sale of a motorcycle gifted to the town.
The investigation was prompted after the finance committee of the town of less than 400 residents noticed irregularities when squaring their books at the end of 2019, according to court records. Calderwood was elected mayor of the town by a single vote in 2017.
In an interview after the charges were filed last June, Calderwood attributed the fraudulent charges to being “a horrible record-keeper” and said her purchases were intended to spruce up a town community center and furnish internet access.
In a statement Wednesday, Calderwood’s defense attorney, Steve Graham, said the guilty pleas showed that she accepted responsibility for her actions, adding that she was “sad and profoundly sorry for her role in this.”
“Ms. Calderwood is accepting her role in this and taking responsibility and wants to move on,” Graham said. “She didn’t want to put her family through the stress of a trial. We will be asking the court to treat her as it would any other first time offender on a nonviolent offense.”
Graham added that Calderwood did not act with “improper intent.”
In a statement, Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen praised the work of investigators.
“Ms. Calderwood was generous to herself with the town’s money. In the long run, it did not pay off,” Rasmussen said.
The investigation revealed at least $12,000 in expenditures believed to be fraudulent from March 2019 to December 2019. The town operated on a budget of $484,000 in 2019, according to a routine audit of city finances by the Washington state Auditor’s Office.
Calderwood took a leave of absence from the office in January 2020.
Mayor Stefany Smith has served since then and was unanimously appointed to the position in June 2020.
Ten of the 11 criminal counts Calderwood pleaded guilty to are felonies. A felony conviction prevents someone from running for public office again under state law.
The bargained plea agreement calls for 90 days of confinement and restitution to the town totaling $15,354. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled June 7 in Colville.