Enumclaw local Joann Thomas was sentenced to three years in prison and three years of supervised release Friday for her part in a scheme to defraud Enumclaw taxpayers of more than $460,000 with her husband.
A jury found Joann guilty of one count of conspiracy, four counts of mail fraud, four counts of wire fraud, two counts of aggravated identity theft, and four counts of money laundering in May; her husband Allan Thomas was convicted of the same charges except for one identity theft count and the money laundering charges.
Joann’s sentence for those crimes was delivered Jan. 6 by U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Jones. Allan was also scheduled for sentencing, but his attorney John Henry Browne said health issues with both him and his client prevented him from being prepared for court, and asked for an extension; U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones set a new sentencing date for Feb. 3.
Browne admitted to being “completely unprepared” for the sentencing due to contracting COVID.
However much the Thomases will have to pay back taxpayers has not yet been resolved — their restitution hearing is scheduled for March 3.
A (VERY) ABRIDGED SUMMARY
The Enumclaw Courier-Herald has laid out the Thomas’ crimes in detail in several previous articles, but the gist is that Allan, as a commissioner of a special taxing district called Drainage District 5 (DD5), and Joann sent fake invoices to King County for work that was never done on about 18 miles of drainage ditches between at least 2012 and 2019; instead, they pocketed those taxpayer dollars to pay bills and property taxes on Thomas Dairy, located on the east side of Enumclaw on state Route 410.
An investigation started in 2017 when Enumclaw’s then-City Administrator Mike Reynolds requested public documents from the Thomases regarding the District’s bills — requests that were not fulfilled on time.
The Enumclaw Police Department investigated first, finding that the Thomases used a dummy company to create fake invoices, and that bank records showed money paid to the company flowed into the Thomas’ bank accounts.
The Washington State Auditor also investigated, finding at least $413,000 in property taxes that were misappropriated, and another $66,000 in taxes used in “questionable” transactions.
By May 2019, Allan resigned as commissioner after holding the position for more than three decades; another commissioner, Kennet Olson — who was never charged, though he testified against Allan — also resigned.
The federal government became officially involved that July, with FBI agents raiding the Thomas’ home, spending hours removing documents.
The Thomases were charged September 2019 with one count of mail fraud, but additional charges were levied a year later.
PROSECUTION REQUESTS SIX YEARS
While Probation and Pretrial Services recommended four years of incarceration for the Thomases, prosecutors asked the court for six — four years for the conspiracy, mail fraud, and wire fraud convictions, and two years for the identity theft convictions — arguing that the case was about far more than a few incidents of fraud.
“Allan and Joann Thomas didn’t just defraud their neighbors by stealing tax dollars; they abused a position of public trust, eroding faith in government,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Brown said in a press release after the sentencing hearing. “The Thomas’ theft caused some 700 neighbors in Enumclaw to pay higher property taxes, which many can ill afford, and for which they got no services. Mr. Thomas also needs to be held accountable at his sentencing next month.”
Although Joann was convicted of more charges than Allan, prosecutors did not recommend additional jail time for her.
“The government is recommending the same 72-month total term of imprisonment for Joann Thomas that it is recommending for Allan Thomas,” prosecutors wrote. “Allan Thomas’ conduct is more egregious than Joann Thomas’, because he is person who held public office and who betrayed that trust. But Joann Thomas’ case is aggravated by the fact that she, unlike Allan Thomas, has a significant criminal history.”
The criminal history prosecutors are referring to are three other felony convictions, they said during the sentencing hearing.
Those include manufacturing marijuana, where she was sentenced to 30 days incarceration, and possession of meth with intent to manufacture, sentenced to 21 months, according to King County court documents.
Prosecutors argued that a sentence of six years was enough to reflect the seriousness of the crimes and deter further crimes by the Thomases or others that find themselves in similar positions, but added that “the total sentence that the government is recommending is significantly below… guidelines range”, partly because of Allan’s age and health concerns.
“Each had a different, but important role in the scheme,” the prosecutors’ sentencing memo reads. “… Ultimately, both defendants benefited equally from the fraud, sharing the proceeds and using it to support their farm. Balancing all of these factors, the government believes that the two defendants deserve the same sentence, and that imposing a 72-month total sentence on each will avoid unwarranted disparities.”
The government also asked for full restitution, $468,165.63, to the taxpayers of Drainage District 5.
DEFENSE ASKS FOR TWO YEARS
Joann’s defense, Terrence Kellogg, asked for two years of incarceration for the aggravated identity theft convictions, which is the mandatory minimum, and “time served” or one day of incarceration for all other counts.
Kellogg also pushed back against the prosecution’s request to consider Joann’s “significant criminal history”, and told the court that her history is “irrelevant” to this case and that “she turned her life around” by devoting herself to her church, community, and husband.
Like the prosecution, Kellogg noted Allan’s poor health and that Joann is his only caregiver.
“The Court is asked to order a delayed commencement of sentence for a significant amount of time to permit Ms. Thomas to assist her husband in obtaining the medical care he needs and recovering from that,” Kellogg wrote in his sentencing memo, noting that Allan requires surgery for one of his health conditions.
Additionally, there is the matter of restitution, and Kellogg argued that it would be hard for the Thomases to pay back taxpayers quickly if they are incarcerated at the same time.
“We ask the Court to consider staggering the sentences imposed so that both Ben and Joann are not imprisoned at the same time but rather one is available and able to assist in winding up their life affairs and finances in dealing with this case and its consequences,” he wrote.
In his court filing, Kellogg included several letters of support to Judge Jones for the Thomases from fellow church and community members. Many wrote of the Thomas’ hard work, ministry, generosity, and passion for serving their community.
“I understand that as the Drainage District Commissioner… [Allan] and his wife were accused of mishandling some money,” one reads. “I cannot reconcile this with the people I have come to know over the years. I have only known them to be loyal friends, hard workers, and good neighbors.”
“I believe that justice will be served by giving this beloved couple the freedom that they need to continue to care for their family and neighbors by honestly offering themselves to the service of our community,” reads another. “… I humbly ask your honor to dismiss the case against both Ben and JoAnn without any charges. In the alternative, I am requesting leniency for this couple, who have suffered a loss of reputation, have had positive contributions to the community, and are in the latter years of their lives.”
JOANN SAYS HER PIECE
Joann also wrote a letter to Jones stating how “the remorse and regret I feel is overwhelming”, and that “I hoped and prayed that the trial would clarify and bring to light more truth and underlying motivation in this case,” though in her eyes, it ultimately didn’t.
Prosecutors said the letter was “instructive” of Joann’s inability to take responsibility for her crimes, but she shot back that the letter was written with “a sincere heart” when given the chance to make a final statement to the court.
“I wanted to express my remorse and all of the pain and the things I’ve experienced in the community,” she said, adding that the “underlying motivation” she hoped the trial would reveal was, among other things, that she and her husband did not purposely commit fraud.
“I’m not a sophisticated person. I work hard as a dairy farmer,” she continued, slightly choking up. “I never went forward with anything to do it in a fraudulent manner or to hide anything. I’m just not a book person, but we were never able to afford a bookkeeper.”
“I’m sorry, sir, that we were not able to represent [the case] in a way that would have a different outcome,” Joann continued. “I’m sorry to have disappointed our community that I love dearly.”
Although Jones ultimately gave Joann a lighter sentence than asked for by prosecutors or recommended by Probation and Pretrial Services, he did not appear to be convinced of her contrition, noting numerous aggravating factors that played a part in her sentence.
“There is a finding by this court… that there was perjury committed. In your mind, you may have believed that when you testified, it was to try and she more light and to find truth. But the jury did not find that you were finding truth… the jury, in fact, that what [you] have done was misled them, attempted to mislead them, as well as the court in statements of what you were doing and why you were doing it,” Jones said. “You chose to get on the witness stand. You chose to testify. And that was clearly a demonstration to this court that you did not have sufficient respect for the law, in the manner which you presented that… testimony.”
Jones also said that prior felonies often deter people from committing additional crimes, but that was not the case here.
“It’s clear to this court were old convictions in your past. That prison term should have been adequate deterrent to avoid you being involved in the justice system again,” he continued. “Even if you had a hint of criminal behavior, or deception, or fraud, you should have stayed away from [further criminal activity]. But nonetheless, that did not serve as adequate deterrent, so the court must now impose a sentence that has deterrent so that you realize this type of conduct will not be permitted.”
After the hearing, Kellogg, Joann’s attorney said only “I wish I did better.”
He also noted that the only reason his client wanted to go to trial was to fight the mandatory minimum sentence of two years for the aggravated identity theft charges, and that if there was no mandatory minimum, a better resolution would have been found before trial.
Prosecutors had no comment on the sentence.