Mary Blevins pleads guilty to theft in the first degree for embezzlement

Mary Kasperson Blevins, 69, of Friday Harbor, pleaded guilty to theft in the first degree on Aug. 4 in San Juan County Superior Court.

She embezzled in excess of $48,000 from the San Juan Community Theatre, a nonprofit based on San Juan Island. Blevins has no prior felony convictions.

She was sentenced to 45 days of jail, 30 of which will be converted to 240 hours of community service. Blevins will pay $69,873.97 in restitution, damages, fines and court fees. She will begin paying $250 per month starting Oct. 1. In addition, “For a period of 10 years, the defendant shall not accept any employment in which she has access to or control over the money or credit of her employer or any other third party as part of that employment.”

Island County Superior Court Judge Alan R. Hancock presided over the proceedings because Judge Donald Eaton filed a recusal from the case, citing the Washington State Code of Judicial conduct: “A judge shall not permit family, social, political, financial, or other interests or relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment.”

Blevins was represented by Stephen Brandli of Friday Harbor.

Four citizens spoke before Hancock, urging for a strong sentence and at least six months of jail time. Her plea agreement asked for no jail time, only 30 days converted to community service.

“I have the responsibility of ordering a fair sentence,” said Hancock. “This was not a spur of the moment act. It was planned out … But we also have a person who is remorseful of the hurt and pain she has caused.”

Blevins spoke to the court, saying “I am very sorry for violating the trust. I apologize to my family and friends who have stood by me, which is more than I deserve for my poor actions.”

In announcing his ruling, Hancock said he did not “feel in good conscience” about the plea agreement, which is why he added 15 days of confinement. Blevins will begin serving her sentence on Aug. 14, most likely at the Island County Jail in Coupeville.

The theater filed a civil complaint on Jan. 13, 2017 against Blevins for breach of contract and conversion-misappropriation of money and property. The lawsuit has not yet been settled.

Blevins was hired by the theater as a part-time bookkeeper in 2001; in 2009 she became the full-time business manager; and in 2012, she was promoted to chief administrative officer, responsible for all purchasing, payroll, payment of vendors and artists, bookkeeping, banking and business record-keeping. As CFO, Blevins had signature authority on the theatre’s checking account and access to business credit cards. The theater, founded in 1984, is supported by donors and grants.

Blevins was terminated from her position on Oct. 20, 2016 for job performance issues, according to the theater’s attorney, Rock Sorensen of Friday Harbor. She agreed to $7,000 gross pay per month for consulting services for three months following her termination.

According to court documents, in mid-December theater staff encountered a problem with the payroll software because it had been registered directly to Blevins and not the theater – even though it was purchased using the organization’s credit card. The software company was able to resolve the issue, but staff was compelled to review previous credit card and banking statements to look for other issues. They discovered a large number of transactions from and other payments that were not related to theater business. The plaintiff alleges that Blevins used theater funds to pay for personal propane bills; federal income tax for Blevins and her husband; medical and dental expenses and health premiums; clothing, shoes, purses, children’s toys, books and knitting supplies coded as “volunteer expenses” and “office supplies”; payment to Evans Funeral Chapel for cremation services; and ferry tickets. Many transactions had “unusual handwritten codes” next to the charges, which didn’t match the referenced expenditures. According to the theater, fraudulent transactions from 2011 to 2016 total at least $48,000.

Journal reporter Heather Spaulding contributed to this story.