(The Center Square) – The Office of the Washington State Auditor has released its findings on how the town of Tenino was bilked out of nearly $300,000 in 2020.
The town of 1,700 residents south of Olympia has a general fund budget of $1.3 million and an overall budget — including capital improvement, water and sewer funds — of $6.2 million.
According to the report, the person who was serving as the city’s clerk-treasurer at the time was scammed into sending the money out of state by a phishing email. The report did not name the person, but did say he received specialized training in cybercrimes during his military service.
He has since resigned.
An investigation by the Washington State Patrol (WSP) could not determine if the he personally benefited from the scheme. WSP turned its files over to the FBI for further investigation. So far, no charges have been filed.
Auditors found that the person had full access to the city’s bank accounts and could complete electronic transfers with no oversight.
A total of $280,309 was sent out of state in 20 separate transactions over a six-week period in 2020.
“The City of Tenino’s loss should serve as a lesson for every government in Washington: No matter how small your operations are, strong internal controls reduce the risk of losing public funds,” State Auditor Pat McCarthy said in a statement. “Electronic payment methods are less expensive to taxpayers and allow for faster vendor payments and payroll processing. But those benefits can be wiped away if governments don’t have checks and balances.”
Tenino Mayor Wayne Fournier offered a possible explanation when he appeared on KIRO Radio in January of 2021
“The details are still forthcoming and I have to be careful about how much I say,” he said. “But as far as I understand right now, it started with an email where somebody created a fake email that looked like an official email. Allegedly, a staff member of ours thought they were conversing with an official person from a trusted organization, and apparently that wasn’t the case.”
Fournier at the time said he was told the fake email had been created to make the recipient believe it was from a representative with the Washington Municipal Clerks Association. That email initially asked for Tenino to lend the organization $23,000 so that the city could host the association’s 50th anniversary banquet.
Fournier at the time said he did not know how the final amount ended up being so much.
The final report indicates the same phishing email was sent to several city clerks around the state.