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Kent City Council candidate Ken Sharp pleads not guilty to theft charges
Kent City Council candidate Ken Sharp pleaded not guilty Thursday to seven counts of first-degree theft for reportedly stealing $297,500 from his 93-year-old mother's bank account and putting the money into his account.
Sharp, 66, plans to reconsider his options this weekend to stay in the council race, said defense attorney Mark Prothero during an interview after Sharp entered his plea in King County Superior Court at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.
"I think he's considering all of the options now," Prothero said. "This has been very stressful to say the least and to say it's a distraction is far too mild. It's very tough on Ken that it has come to this point. He is reconsidering all of his options with regard to withdrawing, suspending the campaign or going full-steam ahead."
Sharp was booked into the county jail after entering his plea and released an hour later on $1 bail, according to jail records. Sharp was not in custody when he entered his plea. Federal Way Police arrested and released Sharp on June 21 for investigation of theft from his mother, a Federal Way resident.
If convicted as charged, Sharp faces a prison sentence of 22 to 29 months, according to Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.
Sharp is scheduled to return to court Oct. 2 when a trial date could be set or attorneys could ask for more time to prepare the case.
Sharp said in an email after charges were filed Aug. 15 that he "absolutely" planned to stay in the race against Bailey Stober to replace Elizabeth Albertson, who decided not to seek reelection. Despite publicity about his arrest for investigation of theft, Sharp won the primary race Aug. 6 over Stober and Barbara Phillips to determine which two candidates advanced to the Nov. 5 general election.
"Ken's not guilty of criminal theft," Prothero said during an interview after the plea. "He had no criminal intent to steal from his mother. Our position is that his mom was competent in 2010 when they entered into the loan agreement. She was subject to independent evaluations by the mortgage company and the U.S. HUD (Housing and Urban Development) certified counselor that interviewed her to make sure she knew what she was doing and that is what she wanted to do."
Money needed to help struggling business
Prothero explained that Sharp needed money to help his struggling business and his mother agreed to loan him the money. Sharp owns Minuteman Press in Kent. He served as president last year of the Kent Chamber of Commerce.
"Ken's business was failing during the recession and his mom wanted to help her son, the man who had been helping her and taking care of her on a weekly if not more frequent basis," Prothero said. "She wanted to help him and help his business and she chose to do that. Everything that Ken did was done openly, honestly and in good faith which his mother understood and agreed to."
The seven counts are for the seven dates between August 2010 and August 2011 when Sharp transferred funds from Helen Sharp's bank account into his own account, according to charging papers.
"Sharp, with intent to deprive another of property, did wrongfully obtain such property belonging to Helen Sharp and did obtain control over such property belonging to Helen Sharp by color and aid of deception, and did exert unauthorized control over such property belonging to Helen Sharp," Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Page Ulrey wrote in the charging documents.
Ken Sharp received power of attorney in 1995 for Helen Sharp's financial decisions with the approval of her family members. Helen Sharp had lived in her Tacoma home until moving to a Federal Way assisted-living facility in 2008 because of failing health. At that time, Helen Sharp had liquid assets of $220,000 and monthly living expenses of about $5,000 per month that Ken Sharp paid for out of Helen Sharp's bank account.
Family members told police in April that they later discovered from a reverse mortgage statement mailed to Helen Sharp that Ken Sharp had initiated a reverse mortgage loan on Helen Sharp's home in Tacoma in August 2010. Ken Sharp had told his mother a loan was needed to fix up her house.
The money trail
Detectives discovered through bank records that Helen Sharp's account received a wire deposit of $263,596.08 on Aug. 19, 2010, just a week after the reverse mortgage application was completed. On that same date, $200,000 was transferred from Helen Sharp's account into Ken Sharp's account.
"His sisters were aware of the loan," Prothero said. "They advised their mother not to do so but she chose to do so and she was competent at the time. One of her daughters suggested that she cancel the loan so even her sisters believed she was competent at the time in 2010."
During an interview with detectives, Sharp said he paid his mother's bills out of her account or by transferring money to his account. He said the more than $490,000 transferred into his account between 2008 to 2011 was with understanding from his mother that she would help him pay off his debts and bills from his business. Prosecutors found evidence to charge Sharp with the theft of $297,500 out of the $490,000 that changed bank accounts.
Helen Sharp signed a notarized statement on Sept. 8, 2012, where she stated:
"I, Helen Sharp, gave rights to Ken Sharp as my Power of Attorney so he could pay my bills. I did not want a reverse mortgage or any other loan on my house. I did not give Ken Sharp any money for his business or any other reason."
Detectives confirmed through an interview with the Federal Way assisted-living facility director that Helen Sharp suffers from dementia and "was not able to make good decisions or have good judgement on her own."
Prothero said Sharp planned to pay the money back after his business took off again.
"The hope was that (money) would be recuperated as the business got on its feet and grew and profited and the housing market returned and the house would be able to be sold for what it was worth at the time," Prothero said. "Neither of those things happened and that's why we're here. Ken made attempts to reach out and rectify things and make arrangements to begin to pay back on the loan and that was rejected by his sisters because they didn't think the monthly payments were enough and they wanted more."
The charging papers indicate that Ken Sharp reportedly used the money to help out his financially struggling business as well as to pay for trips to Spain and South Africa and to buy jewelry (with debits to a jewelry store in Tacoma of $10,000 and $2,358).
Prothero denied Sharp spent any of his mother's money on trips or jewelry.
"Ken met his now wife Sara Sharp, a U.S. Army veteran who had savings and income that they lived off of," Prothero said. "She surprised Ken with the trip to Spain. The trip to Africa was purchased at a charity auction event at less than half of what it was really worth. They paid for that out of Sarah and Ken's money. He did derive an income from his business. He paid himself for the work he did so he did have an income when this was happening. To suggest he lived a lavish lifestyle from money out of his mother's account is not true.
"They were a middle-aged couple falling in love and courting and dating. They did take these trips but it wasn't out of mom's pocket."
Police also discovered that payments for Helen Sharp's care at the Federal Way assisted-living facility fell behind in 2010 and 2012 with numerous late fees charged. Ken Sharp was listed as the responsible party on the account. Sara Sharp, the wife of Ken, made two large payments of her "personal money" to help cover the costs.
Prothero painted the issue as a dispute among Sharp and his sisters over their mother's money.
"It's an intra-family financial dispute and it's unfortunate that it has arrived in a criminal court and resulted in this prosecution," he said.