Former Lewis County museum director suspect in $100,000 theft
Former Lewis County Historical Museum Executive Director Debbie Knapp was booked into the Lewis County Jail on Thursday afternoon. Police are recommending she be charged with 10 counts of first-degree theft in connection with the disappearance of museum funds.
CENTRALIA — Since November, Lewis County Historical Museum officials have been trying to figure out how more than $460,000 could have disappeared from the museum's endowment fund in less than three years.
Chehalis police Thursday believe they have solved a piece of the puzzle, and the person most closely associated with the museum's day-to-day operation for over five years is now accused of stealing more than $100,000 from the fund.
Former Lewis County Historical Museum Executive Director Debbie Knapp was booked into the Lewis County Jail on Thursday afternoon. Knapp is being held without bail; she is expected to make a preliminary appearance Friday afternoon in Lewis County Superior Court.
The Chronicle on Nov. 1 first reported the disappearance of roughly $460,000 in the museum's endowment fund over the course of just under three years, from January 2008 to near the end of 2010. Chehalis police began investigating the funds' drawdown in November after board members turned in the financial records they had acquired from Security State Bank.
Chehalis police say that during the investigation, which covers years 2008 through 2011, they learned money had apparently been transferred from the endowment fund to a bank account, with a debit card subsequently used to make "personal purchases of goods from local businesses, and services such as utility payments."
Police also allege Knapp signed checks in excess of her salary.
Chehalis police estimate the fraudulent use of funds to be more than $100,000, the news release said.
Detectives are still investigating the specifics of other individual purchases and they don't believe anyone else associated with the museum was involved, according to the release.
The museum bylaws during Knapp's term as executive director stated two board members must sign off on any withdrawal from the endowment fund.
In November, aware of the funds' disappearance, museum membership voted out all sitting executive board members and replaced them with President John Panesko, Vice President Peter Lahmann, Secretary Julie Zander and Treasurer Daryl Lund.
However, the executive board resigned en masse shortly after the annual meeting, handing the reins of leadership to the four incumbents a month and a half early.
The new executive board in mid-November moved to lay off Knapp and other paid museum staff, citing financial difficulties. At that meeting, the board reported just over $2,000 in its primary bank account, with over $13,000 in unpaid bills. The board later voted to accept what it called a "gracious" loan offer from Security State Bank to help pay off the museum's debts.
Panesko said Thursday afternoon that the new board "feared the worst" after discovering the museum's financial records did not reflect those obtained from Security State Bank in November after the board voted to view the bank's records.
"This is sad because Debbie has been our friend and she did so much for the museum," Panesko said.
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