A former Camas mayor and executive director of the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association has been charged with first-degree theft for allegedly using the association’s funds for personal expenses.
Paul Dennis, 51, of Camas appeared, out of custody, on the charge Tuesday via Zoom in Clark County Superior Court. He entered a not-guilty plea, and his trial was set for Nov. 23.
Dennis is accused of stealing nearly $15,000 from the association over a seven-year period, court records show. However, findings released in May by the Office of the Washington State Auditor allege that Dennis misappropriated $19,311 between Feb. 15, 2013, and Feb. 12, 2019, and that another $45,029 in expenses, spent between April 30, 2012, and March 1, 2019, remained in question.
He resigned from the organization May 31, 2019, and the association has since been administratively dissolved. (The board’s decision to dissolve was unrelated to the audit and what the state auditor’s office described as a fraud investigation.)
The Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office filed the charge against Dennis on July 15, after reviewing the findings from the Camas Police Department, as well as the state auditor’s office.
Dennis previously told The Columbian that the situation stems from a civil dispute over pay and said he’s still owed $10,000 by the association. On Tuesday, his Vancouver attorney, Jon McMullen, also characterized the case as a civil dispute.
The association was founded in 2011 by the Port of Camas-Washougal and the two cities, and it was headed by Dennis. The agency’s mission was to “help existing businesses succeed and bring new businesses and jobs to the area.” It operated as a private organization until early 2018, when officials acknowledged it should be considered a public entity that made it subject to an audit by the state.
According to investigative documents provided by the Camas Police Department, Washougal Financial Director Jennifer Forsberg was assigned to complete the local audit, and she “had a difficult time receiving any documents from Paul, and had to go to the bank and get them herself.”
Dennis was responsible for the association’s checkbook and was being paid $9,700 a month during his yearslong tenure as chief administrative officer, the police report and probable cause affidavit say.
Forsberg told police in March 2019 that she discovered Dennis had made many personal purchases with the association’s money at several businesses, including Les Schwab, The Palace San Francisco, Northwest Auto Paint, PetSmart and GameStop, for a total of $14,916.94. His bookkeeper had entered Cascade Planning, Dennis’ company, as the vendor in QuickBooks for the personal purchases, the affidavit states.
Forsberg gave a copy of her audit to the state auditor’s office and Camas and Washougal police departments. The state auditor’s office conducted its investigation before the criminal investigation, according to the affidavit.
In January, Dennis was interviewed by the state auditor’s office. “Paul claimed little to no recollection of any of these purchases but confessed they should ‘accrue’ to him,” the officer wrote in the affidavit.
The state auditor’s office reportedly told local authorities that it concluded Dennis misappropriated more than $20,000 from the association, which included a $4,000 Apple purchase that was not included in the local audit, the affidavit says.
Police interviewed Dennis and the association’s board members, and the board members agreed that the purchases in the suspected loss column had nothing to do with the association’s spending. They concluded that if Dennis made the purchases, he should have reimbursed the organization, the affidavit states.
Dennis told police he was keeping a “running tally” of money owed to him by the organization and was balancing it as he went along. He said he would pay himself less if he made a personal purchase, according to the affidavit.
“This statement was not true as when large personal purchases were made (e.g. $1,400 at Les Schwab in February 2013) there was no balance made in the following months of Paul’s paycheck,” the affidavit reads.
Dennis also reportedly told the board in 2019 that he “still needed to settle up for a personal trip he took to San Francisco in 2013,” paid for with association funds. He also could not recall making a $3,600 PayPal purchase in November 2016, but he said the purchase should accrue to him, the affidavit says.