A Sequim woman was sentenced Tuesday morning in Clallam County Superior Court for what could be one of the largest financial crimes in the county’s history, says Judge Christopher Melly.
Eleana Maria Christianson, 49, pleaded guilty to second-degree theft for taking at least $775,000 from Donald and Pilar Tucker, owners of Park Manager LLC, and Donald’s mother.
Melly sentenced Christianson to 45 days in jail starting May 12 following a doctor’s consent that she is fit to serve jail time after surgery on April 27. Christianson’s attorney Jim Dixon said she’s in remission now from stage-III breast cancer, but she has exploratory surgery on April 27.
She and her husband Bret W. Christianson originally pleaded not guilty in May 2015 to theft and identity theft charges but their cases have been delayed more than two years.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jesse Espinoza said they continue to investigate allegations against Bret Christianson who has a status hearing at 1 p.m. May 25 in Clallam County Superior Court.
According to court documents, the Tuckers said they learned of theft in October 2013 after Donald Tucker received a credit check for a property loan and discovered an increased line of credit on his home. The couple reported to Sequim Police Department the Christiansons stole about $1.25 million from their business, which includes nine manufactured housing communities, several rental properties and real estate holdings such as 400 rental units.
However, Tucker said since the preliminary investigation they’ve learned the amount is allegedly closer to $1 million.
The Tuckers settled with the Christiansons through a civil lawsuit for $775,000, which they’ve received about $645,000, Espinoza said.
“For Clallam County, a little country county like ours, the allegations that showed up in the first police report I read, and the first charging document, had staggering numbers in it,” Melly said. “You can kind of expect that thing in the big city but not in little old Clallam County.”
Melly opted to give Christianson jail time in lieu of the prosecuting attorney’s staff’s recommendation for 30 days home monitoring as a first time offender.
“Justice demands it,” he said. “The Tuckers are entitled to it.”
The Tuckers both spoke in court about the financial and emotional damages of the theft.
Donald Tucker asked Melly to consider jail time saying “(Christianson) was the mastermind behind a criminal conspiracy that robbed our family of almost a million dollars. Perhaps the largest embezzlement in this county. She forever changed the way Pilar and I trust.”
Espinoza told the Gazette the prosecuting attorney’s office didn’t request jail time because it typically encourages first time offenders of cases like this to repay damages easier.
Christianson worked for the Tuckers as an office manager and bookkeeper from 2006-November 2013 until she was fired.
She had access to multiple accounts and portfolios through Park Manager LLC, the Tuckers, and Donald’s elderly mother Jeannine McQuillen who has Alzheimer’s disease, police reports state.
Bret and Eleana allegedly took rental income, made unauthorized online transfers between accounts for personal use, paid personal bills and forged checks. Some of the reported theft included credit cards use in McQuillen’s name, and separate expenditures of an estimated $163,390 at 7 Cedars Casino from Dec. 2, 2010-June 27, 2013, where Eleana only won $11,537 back gambling.
When first confronted about the unauthorized transfers from accounts, Eleana claimed she had made some “unauthorized payroll advances,” totaling about $20,000, Sequim Police Department reports, but she later told Tucker she made unauthorized credit card charges and cash withdrawals from both the personal accounts and company accounts.
Allegations against Bret, who worked for Parks Manager LLC from 2007-2011, state he used business credit cards for unlawful transactions and he made a Labor and Industries disability claim but Tucker said he never signed the forms, court documents state.
Tucker told the Gazette he and the Christiansons signed the restitution agreement in October 2016 and he received his first payment in January but no more since then.
He told Melly in court on Tuesday that the Christiansons have since defaulted on the agreement and they are looking to pay him through equity in their home.
Dixon said Christianson’s financial status has changed and a trust, that is in Bret’s name, was used to pay some of the restitution.
Christianson will return to court at 1:30 p.m. Friday, May 12, depending on her health status for booking into Clallam County Jail. She’ll also face a drug charge of 30 days concurrently to her 45 days in jail for a Class C felony of possession of a controlled substance — Hydrocodone. She was arrested on Feb. 12, in the JCPenney parking lot by a Sequim Police officer for possession of Hydrocodone pills.
Methamphetamine was also found in her vehicle but attornies confirmed later it belonged to her son.
Following her release from jail, she’ll serve six months in community custody, and she must not go into any casino or ever own a firearm. She also must begin paying towards $800 in court fees.
When asked by Melly if she had anything to say, Eleana said, “I’m sorry.”
Outside of court, Tucker said he was content with the sentencing.
“I’m happy with the judge and really pleased with the effort of Mark Nichols and the prosecuting attorney’s office,” he said.
Christianson and Dixon chose not to comment after the sentencing.
Reach Matthew Nash at email@example.com.