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March 6, 2012 at 12:49 PM

Former SPU employee charged with 70 counts of theft

A former Seattle Public Utilties project engineer was charged today with 70 counts of theft for allegedly stealing nearly $1.1 million by diverting customer checks from water main extension projects into a private bank account.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said it is the largest embezzlement of public funds in modern King County history. “I don’t know what is more shocking, the sheer greed involved in this scam or the simplicity with which the defendant allegedly perpetrated this fraud.”

Joseph Phan, 44, was charged with 67 counts of first-degree theft and three counts of second-degree theft. First-degree theft can carry a maximum prison sentence of ten years, but a standard range of 43 to 57 months in prison. He remains in jail in lieu of $750,000.

Prosecutors filed two special allegations in order to seek an exceptional sentence above the standard range. They argue that the thefts are a major economic offense and that Phan used his position of trust to facilitate the crimes, according to a statement released by the Prosecutors Office.

Police seized about $220,000 from Phan’s bank account. Investigators believe he also used the stolen funds for the down payment of a rental house, a car and to pay down credit card debt.

Investigators also are searching for other bank accounts where funds might have been transferred, according to the statement.

Phan was fired by SPU in February 2011 for accessing his own utility account and entering payments which were never made. In December he agreed to pay a $1,500 fine levied by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission for using a city position for personal gain.

Comments | More in Government, The Blotter | Topics: charged, Dan Satterberg, Joeseph Phan

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