Jan. 5—A Spokane County employee convicted in a $1.4 million public corruption case spent the money on gambling, taking vacations and buying lavish gifts. She received a one-year prison sentence Wednesday.

The theft was costly, difficult and embarrassing to county staff and leadership, the director of the county’s Risk Management Department, Steve Bartel, told a courtroom during the sentencing of one of his former employees, Rhonda Sue Ackerman.

Ackerman, 53, was sentenced to one year in prison with credit for time served on Wednesday. She has been in jail since late September.

She pleaded guilty in October to first-degree theft, second-degree theft and trafficking in stolen property. Her sentence was higher than the standard range of three to nine months.

Ackerman fought through tears in a statement she made to the court.

“My actions have affected so many people, and I want to take this time to apologize for everything I’ve done that’s wrong,” Ackerman said as she read from a piece of notebook paper. “Due to my actions, I have lost countless friends. My husband has filed for divorce. I lost the trust of my children. It’s led me not to meet my first grandbaby, who turns 1 this month. I blame no one, absolutely no one for my losses. I hope through hard work I can redeem myself.”

While the county was reimbursed for the stolen money, Bartel said the cost to Spokane taxpayers was about $100,000. That’s how much in taxpayer money was spent on independent audits of county funds, higher insurance rates and other expenses related to the theft.

Ackerman was also ordered to pay restitution after her release.

“Justice was done today,” Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement regarding the case his office prosecuted. “This prosecution sends an important message: My prosecutors and I will hold those who engage in public corruption accountable.”

Ackerman worked for the Spokane County Risk Management Department as a liability claims technician when she defrauded the county of $1,378,541 between 2007 and 2016. She had been a county employee since 2001.

Ackerman was fired in May 2018 for “job abandonment after her employer learned that she had attended a weekend mud bogging event with her husband, even though she claimed to have been severely ill for a week,” the attorney general’s office said.

Ackerman filed fake claims on behalf of dozens of claimants and requested claim payments from her office.

The claimants, many of whom were her family members and friends of her son, were directed to cash the checks and deliver the bulk of the funds back to her.

Ackerman filed fake claims on behalf of 45 claimants and requested claim payments from her office.

The Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office referred the case to the attorney general because the money was taken from the county and because Ackerman and several witnesses were former or current county employees. The fraud was made public in March 2019 when Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said that her office discovered discrepancies.

“You took advantage of not only the confidence your employer had in you, but also the confidence your family had in you,” Judge Raymond F. Clary said.

Ackerman stole large sums of money from Spokane County in 211 incidents, Assistant Attorney General Barbara Serrano said in court on Wednesday.

That money was then spent on a lavish lifestyle, she said.

“She used her position and authority and gambled it away at local casinos or used the money for spending sprees and trips,” Serrano said.

Bartel called the theft the worst experience of his career.

“I’ve never seen anything else that has impacted my department and the economy with such an impact. … It has been an awful mess,” he said in a statement during court proceedings attended by Ackerman’s family and county employees.

Attorney Bryan Raymon, representing Ackerman, said his client hit “rock bottom” during the holiday season.

“We initially had an agreement after the plea that she would be released for a GPS monitoring system and stay with her family or somebody else, but what happened after that is that everyone Ms. Ackerman knew turned their back on her,” Raymon said. “I talked to a large number of people on her behalf, and no body would talk to her.”

In an interview after the sentencing, Bartel told The Spokesman-Review: “It’s been real tough on my department going forward, and we can finally turn the page and move forward.”

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