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Originally published Monday, October 7, 2013 at 8:22 PM

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King County sheriff’s deputy cleared in Genesis Project probe

U.S. Attorney’s Office says sloppy accounting and poor management were evident in operation of The Genesis Project, but that an investigation showed no crime was committed by those involved in the SeaTac nonprofit helping women and girls find a way out of the sex trade.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A veteran King County sheriff’s deputy has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing after an investigation into the finances of a drop-in center for women and girls involved in the sex trade.

Federal prosecutors concluded that concerns raised about the finances of The Genesis Project were the result of sloppy accounting and poor management.

Deputy Andy Conner, the man behind the project, had been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, which was undertaken by the FBI and a detective assigned to a U.S. Secret Service task force.

The investigation concluded Conner failed to follow some project bylaws regarding financial management and did not have adequate financial controls or abide by best-practice procedures for nonprofit operations.

However, investigators found no evidence Conner had embezzled money from the operation, which raised funds through coin-box donations, online donations via religious and nonreligious websites, and annual fundraisers. According to the investigators, The Genesis Project has raised about $300,000 since August 2012.

A letter sent Sept. 25 from the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the investigation, stemming from allegations that as much as $50,000 may have been embezzled, turned up no evidence of a crime.

The letter said the project’s employees were interviewed, its books were reviewed by an FBI forensic accountant, and prosecutors reviewed the records.

“Your investigation failed to substantiate the allegations of financial malfeasance by Conner. Investigators were able to verify and justify all but a few minor cash withdrawals,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence Lincoln. “Your investigation did show that Conner oversaw an organization that suffered from very poor workplace management, lack of experience in nonprofit operations, and inadequate financial controls.”

A telephone message left with Conner on Monday was not immediately returned.

Conner is the idea man behind the nonprofit drop-in shelter that opened in SeaTac in summer 2011 to provide a safe haven for women involved in the sex trade. Conner and sheriff’s Detectives Brian Taylor and Joel Banks pooled their money and raised funds to launch the center to offer girls and women a way out of prostitution.

The Seattle Times profiled The Genesis Project and the three men last year.

The investigation was prompted after complaints about the project’s finances were made to the Kent Police Department, which referred the matter to the sheriff’s Internal Affairs Department.

Several Genesis Project officials left during the past year.

The FBI and Secret Service were brought in to avoid any conflict of interest.

The deputies formed The Genesis Project out of frustration over the lack of services available for young victims of prostitution.

The three men pooled their money and appealed to churches to help them create a safe place where a cup of coffee and a hot shower can become a starting point for a girl or woman to chart her way out of the sex trade.

Conner was named the 2012 Citizen of the Year by the Metropolitan League of King County in April 2012 for his work with The Genesis Project.

Mike Carter: mcarter@seattletimes.com or 206-464-3706

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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