Washington man sentenced for stealing funds from Autism charity

CC BY-SA by mikecogh

A Washington man who spent two years raising £277,000 for the Autistic Society of Washington pocketed 98PC of the profits Thruston County courts heard on Thursday September 19.

Joseph Searles, 64, from Olympia was sentenced to 90 days at home with electronic tagging after pleading guilty to two embezzlement and theft felonies. He spent 2010-2012 running three unlicensed raffles in the name of the charity, without handing over the profits.

He was also ordered to pay the charity a restitution of $5,000.

All raffles run in the state of Washington must be licensed, and all proceeds minus operating expenses must be directly handed over to that charity.

Prosecutor Joe Wheeler said that Mr Searles was in dire financial states and his house was under bank foreclosure. As his assets were all repossessed $5,000 seemed a realistic amount for the charity to recoup.

Searles believed himself innocent of any wrongdoing, and therefore gave courts and Alford guilty plea. This means that he accepted that a jury of his peers were likely to find him guilty of the crime, although he protested his innocence.

According to Court documentation, attorney Saxon Rogers, maintained Mr Searles innocence through out and stated in court that:

“the truth is, a lot of it depends on how you articulate the criminal definition of theft.”

Judge, Caroline Murphy said:

“These are crimes that hurt people and hurt our community.They impact the ability of legitimate charities to raise money. It is criminal behaviour, so I find no excuse to this kind of behaviour and I’m very concerned about the lack of taking responsibility for that behaviour.”

Washington State gambling commission began their investigation of Searles early in 2012 after receiving a report from the Washington Attorney General’s Office.

Court papers read:

The investigation revealed that the Searles were operating their business, Associated Services of Washington, as a for-profit company. The acronym of Searles business, ASW, was identical to a legitimate autism charity – The Autism Society of Washington.

A raffle cannot be run by a for-profit company. In 2010, the Searles operated a raffle for the Autism Society of Washington, depositing $26,000 in proceeds, but paying only $1,070 to the charity. Searles  did not obtain a license from the gambling commission for the raffle, which is against the law.

“The Autism Society of Washington’s board of directors became aware of the regulations and license requirement, and promptly disassociated their relationship with Associated Services of Washington.”