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The original item was published from 1/30/2013 2:33:33 PM to 4/25/2013 2:53:59 PM.

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Prosecuting Attorney

Posted on: January 30, 2013

[ARCHIVED] Former Paralegal Charged with Stealing $250,000

TACOMA, WA – Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist has charged Deborah Sheehan, 46, with 27 counts for stealing more than $250,000 from her employer and its clients. In addition, she stole more than $12,000 from her homeowners association, where she was President. The defendant was arraigned today and plead not guilty. Bail was set at $75,000.

"This case is a reminder that businesses and associations need to carefully supervise and audit those who handle their money," said Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. "As the saying goes, 'Trust but verify.'"

From September, 2008, to April, 2012, the defendant was employed as a senior paralegal at a local law firm that handles personal injury cases, disability claims and workers compensation claims. The firm frequently received client settlement checks; some checks went directly to clients and some were deposited into the office's trust account and re-issued to clients once the firm's fees were deducted. The paralegals were responsible for making payment arrangements with clients. As a senior paralegal, the defendant supervised two other paralegals and had the authority to request that checks be issued to clients as advances.

Starting in September, 2008, the defendant took dozens of benefit checks made out to clients, forged the clients' signatures, and deposited the checks into her personal bank account. Most of the checks, varying from less than $100 to more than $18,000, were payments for clients who received on-the-job injuries.

On February 28, 2011, the defendant attempted to deposit a check made out to a client in the amount of $44,527.22. Unsuccessful in making the deposit, the defendant then used the client's personal information to open an account as Power of Attorney for the victim. She deposited the check into the fraudulent account. Over the course of the next two months, the defendant drained the account, making many cash withdrawals at area casinos. The victim, who had been injured on the job, spoke with the defendant many times regarding her claim, but the defendant told her she had been denied. The victim later became homeless.

Beginning in July, 2011, the defendant forged and cashed nine checks totaling more than $14,000 made out to another client, a man who had been injured while working for a construction company. Because the victim did not receive any of the payments, he lost his trailer and the lot on which it was sitting. Another client became homeless with her son after not receiving $6,000 in payments that the defendant stole.

The theft came to light in April, 2012, when the law firm was contacted by Chase Bank after the defendant deposited into her personal account a check for $4,836.92 made out to one of the victims. The office manager discovered that the check had been issued to a client for reimbursement for a fee overpayment. When the defendant deposited the check, the "pay to" line had been changed to her name. The law firm terminated the defendant and reported the theft to the Tacoma Police.

The ensuing investigation revealed that the defendant illegally obtained and cashed 83 separate checks. Additionally, the defendant defrauded the Taylor Pointe Home Owners Association (HOA), of which she was the president, of almost $13,000. The defendant wrote checks to herself with notations in the memo lines for "repairs and landscaping", "new fence, block party", and similar items. Just four days after being questioned by the investigating detective and admitting to the theft, the defendant tried unsuccessfully to withdraw an additional $700 from the HOA bank account.

When interviewed by detectives, the defendant said she felt stress at home and at work and took up gambling to relieve the stress. The charges include Theft in the First Degree (10 counts), Theft in the Second Degree (11 counts), Forgery (three counts), Theft in the Third Degree (two counts) and Identity Theft in the First Degree. During the course of her employment, the defendant forged and cashed more than 80 checks totaling approximately $250,000.

Charges are only allegations and a person is presumed innocent unless he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

For more information, please contact Rebecca Stover at (253) 798-4910, [email protected].

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